Place an Active Duty Alert
In Your Credit Report
to Protect Against Identity Theft
Amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act provide an extra measure of protection against identity theft for deployed service members. If you are away from your usual duty station for an extended period, you can place an "Active Duty Alert" in your credit report with the major credit reporting companies.
You only have to notify one credit reporting company
If you alert either one of the three major credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, that you are an active duty service member who is deployed away from home, it must place an active duty alert in your credit report. And it must notify the other two agencies for you.
How does it work?
Once you have placed an active duty alert, a business that pulls your credit report must verify your identity before granting credit. In other words, they will require a photo id or some other verification to be sure the person requesting credit really is you, and not someone who has helped him- or herself to your identity. If the credit request is not made in person so that your photo ID can be examined, the merchant likely will attempt to contact you. Since you are away from home, however, you likely will want to authorize a representative to handle this for you.
An active duty alert is valid for one year, unless you cancel it sooner. If you are away longer than that, you can place a second alert after the first expires. This, particularly, is something you will want to designate a representative to handle for you in the event your deployment is extended, like those folks who just learned their deployment will be fifteen months instead of the twelve they planned. If your contact information changes before your alert expires, remember to update it.
The active duty alert protects by preventing someone else from opening credit accounts in your name, and also serves to alert you that your personal information has been compromised if someone attempts to do so. That provides some peace of mind when you know you will be out of the country for an extended period.
Why is this important?
In a typical case, you could be unaware your identity has been compromised until a collection agency starts hounding you for an unpaid bill on an account you know nothing about. When you start checking, you will find the account was opened in your name, shows the correct SSN, and probably the correct mailing address, although sometimes the thief will have the bills directed to a mail drop address so you don't even get the bills he isn't paying! The thief usually will have maxed out the account, and left you holding the bag. Try convincing "Vinny" from the collection agency that isn't your account!
Your credit report contains a wealth of personal information about you: Your name, your spouse's name if you're married, Social Security number, physical address, and addresses and account numbers for every credit account you have. In addition, it shows how you pay your bills, and whether you've ever been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. You want to guard that information as though it were "the gold in Fort Knox," especially your SSN, which is the primary identifier used to open new credit accounts.
People whose identity is stolen often spend years and thousands of hours of their own time trying to get the problem straightened out. And no one is immune.
I recently heard an attorney tell her story of being an identity theft victim. A young woman working as a temp at another law firm had used the law firm's account at one of the credit reporting agencies to pull this woman's credit report after seeing her name in a list of attorneys. It gave her all the information she needed to set up other credit accounts. She just had the bills sent to a different address, so the attorney didn't know anything about it until the merchants attempted to collect about $50,000 in unpaid debts from her. In this case, the thief was even bold enough to pay a visit to the attorney's office to pick up a stack of her business cards, and began passing herself off as the attorney!
This attorney indicated that it took her more than a year, and more than $500,000 worth of her time (which she couldn't be billing to clients) to get the mess straightened out. And she has to carry with her at all times a copy of a statement from the judge in the case saying that even though the name is the same, she is NOT the woman who committed these crimes, because her name shows up as an "alias" for the woman who did.
Why is this necessary? Imagine this scenario: She's driving home late at night after a social engagement. A police cruiser behind her notices something -- a tail light out, perhaps, and decides to pull her over to give her a warning. Now, imagine how his attitude changes when he runs her license plate in his onboard computer prior to pulling her over, and it returns her name, flashing "convicted felon, may be armed" because the woman who stole her identity had been convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a crime.
Suddenly, her evening becomes a lot less pleasant! The officer calls for backup, and she ends up surrounded by police cruisers with lights flashing, and faces officers with guns drawn when she gets out of her car. Without that piece of paper signed by the Superior Court judge, how much success do you think she'd have at the curb convincing the officers, "But really, Officer, that wasn't me. That was someone else with the same name." At least she doesn't have to spend the night in the lockup before they straighten it out.
So, now that you understand that it COULD happen to you, do everything you can to protect your SSN as well as your other personal information, especially your physical address (to help protect your loved ones when you aren't home).
Another benefit of the active duty alert
When you place an active duty alert, your name will be removed from the nationwide consumer reporting companies’ marketing lists for prescreened offers of credit and insurance for two years — unless you ask that your name be placed on the lists before then. Prescreened offers — sometimes called “preapproved” credit offers — are based on information in your credit report that indicates you meet certain criteria set by the offeror. So the active duty alert acts like a "do not call" list for junk mail trying to sell you all sorts of things.
How to place an Active Duty Alert?
To place an “active duty” alert, or to have it removed, call the toll-free fraud number of one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, or Trans Union. The company will require you to provide appropriate proof of your identity, which may include your Social Security number, your name, address, and other personal information.
To learn more about identity theft and your credit rights under the FCRA and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, visit ftc.gov/credit. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them.
To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database
available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Request your free annual credit report
Be sure to request a your free annual credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once a year. Why is this important? To help you be aware of inaccuracies or fraudulent entries in your report. Inaccurate or fraudulent information in your credit report could affect your ability to get credit, insurance, or housing, now or in the future.
And it could mean the interest rate you pay on your legitimate debts is two to five percent (or more) higher. That can add up to thousands of dollars, especially on a mortgage. For more information on how to get your free annual credit report, follow the link.