Members of the military, particularly active duty personnel who are stationed overseas, have plenty to think about while serving. This means that they may not be paying as much attention to aspects of their home life, such as their credit. Unfortunately, such an oversight puts them at a higher risk of identity theft.
In 2013, a study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission found that military members, veterans and their families experienced identity theft at twice the rate of the general public. One reason for this is that, until recently, all military IDs were tied to Social Security Numbers.
“Our SSN was our name, our identifier, and we’d give it out like it was nothing,” Jeff Rose, a financial planner and a veteran of the Army National Guard, told CreditCards.com “It was no big deal.”
It’s certainly a big deal now. This system may have worked well enough decades ago, before identity theft became a major concern. But in today’s modern age, easy access to Social Security numbers is a major privacy flaw. Once a thief steals this information, it is only a matter of time before they can use it to open financial accounts and rack up thousands of dollars of debt in the victim’s name. This can be a particularly serious problem for a soldier on deployment, who may not realize what has transpired until after returning home.
“Military personnel live a mobile lifestyle punctuated by combat deployments, and that makes it hard for them to keep a close eye on their finances — or to fix the fallout from an identity theft,” Holly Petraeus, assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, told CreditCards.com. “They may not even realize their identity has been stolen for some time, giving the fraudster ample time to do significant damage.”
In the past few years, the Department of Defense has undertaken a slow, but steady, effort to stop issuing military ID cards with Social Security numbers displayed prominently, and instead replace them with unique DOD numbers. This will take time, as millions of current and former military members are carrying cards that need to be replaced. Even worse, the new cards still contain Social Security information in their magnetic stripes. The Veterans Administration has admitted that identity thieves could use card readers to extract this information.
Many scams designed to target military personnel
Though easy access to their Social Security information is an obvious security flaw, members of the military regularly face more complex plots meant to deprive them of their personal data.
“Recently there has been a proliferation of Internet startups that directly advertise military discounts for veterans,” Higgins said. “Most are, in reality, data grabs.”
These “companies” will often be little more than false retail websites that advertise directly to military members and instruct them to type in their ID when making a purchase. Sometimes, this fraud can happen at actual retail establishments, with employees obtaining the ID numbers and selling them to thieves.
If you are currently serving, or have served in the past, you must be on your guard. Be sure to invest in a credit monitoring service, which can notify you of certain activities that may indicate fraud. This can give you much-needed peace of mind, allowing you to rest assured that you’re taking important measures to safeguard your identity.