If you or a member of your family is preparing for a military deployment, the last thing you want to deal with is identity theft. According to a Federal Trade Commission survey, in 2005 8.3 million Americans were victims of this crime. On average, these victims spent four hours working to restore their identity and credit, but for over 10 percent, it took at least 55 hours to get things straightened out.
Thankfully, an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act is intended to help military families avoid this hassle. Under the Act, “active duty alerts” are available to members of the military who are away from their usual duty station. Your credit report includes information about your address, your bill payment history, and whether you have ever filed for bankruptcy or been arrested or sued. This information is then sold by a nationwide consumer reporting company to businesses that are considering extending you credit. If you have such an active duty alert on your report and a business is attempting to extend credit to someone in your name, the business will see the alert and then must verify the identity of the person seeking credit. This extra step makes it much more difficult to steal the identity of an active duty military member.
Be aware that such precautions are not perfect-if you are interested in getting credit while an alert is in place, it can be time consuming as the business will have to confirm your identity, which may be difficult once you are deployed. However, chances are good that this inconvenience will be much less than that associated with trying to repair your credit.
If you or a family member is interested in obtaining an active duty alert, simply call the toll-free number of one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies:
- Exquifax（1-800-525-6285 or www.equifax.com）
- Experian（1-888-397-3742 or www.experian.com）
- TransUnion（1-800-680-7289 or www.transunion.com）
You will have to provide identifying information, which can include your name, address, Social Security number, and other personal information. Unless you request that it be removed earlier, such alerts are effective for one year. To learn more about your credit rights, visit ftc.gov/credit.
This amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act is just one of a number of legislative efforts aimed at helping servicemembers and their families. For example, the federal government passed a law in 2006 that imposed limits on the ability of payday lenders to target military personnel. Servicemembers and their families should take full advantage of any and all benefits such as these that are offered, both before and during deployment. The Web site of the National Military Family Association (www.nmfa.org) provides detailed information on such programs. Like many financial and identity theft protections, these tools only work if you use them.
Alerts Also Apply To Reservists!
Don’t worry if you or a family member is a reservist – active duty alerts still work. So long as you are on active duty and are away from your usual station, you are eligible for active duty alerts, regardless of your status as a reservist.