Protecting yourself

Protect your identity while protecting us abroad

Emily Crone

Today while reading a Kiplinger column, I discovered that soldiers who are deployed have the ability to place active-duty alerts on their credit reports. I had previously never heard of this, and I think it is a great tool for those busy serving overseas who don’t have the ability to actively monitor their accounts for fraud.

Kimberly Lankford, the Kiplinger columnist, explains what an active-duty alert does: It “notifies creditors that you’re on military active duty and asks them to take extra precautions to verify the identity of the applicant before extending credit.” Lankford suggests including the phone number of a trusted family member or friend along with the alert so creditors have someone to call and verify your identity while you are out of reach.

An active-duty alert will stay on your credit file for one year and gives you the opportunity to opt out of promotional mail for two years, which includes pre-approved credit card offers. If a criminal gets a hold of these mailers, he or she can apply for a credit card in your name. By ensuring these aren’t delivered to your house while you’re away, you’re removing a major identity theft threat.

According to Lankford, the active-duty alert costs nothing and will not affect your ability to use credit while you’re deployed. All you have to do to place the alert is contact one of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. The one you contact will notify the other two bureaus.

Just a reminder, though: The alert will make sure no new credit accounts are opened in your name, but it will not ensure your current accounts aren’t tampered with. The column recommends occasionally checking your credit report for unusual activity (if you go through, you can get all three reports free once a year, or stagger them and get one free every four months), in addition to monitoring your credit and bank accounts online. You can also have a close friend or family member do this for you if you are unable to while abroad, though you should be careful about whom you choose. “It is not unusual for a family member or close associate to use existing credit accounts or commit new account fraud, especially when someone is out of the country and vulnerable with little visibility to fraudulent activity,” an Experian spokeswoman tells Kiplinger.

Another warning in the column involves a scam discovered by the Federal Trade Commission last year. The criminal called a soldier’s family members, claiming to be with the Red Cross, and told the family their loved one was injured in Iraq. “The caller says that certain paperwork must be completed and personal information verified before providing any more details. It’s a ploy by an ID thief to gather enough personal information to open accounts in your name,” the column says.

Fortunately, soldiers’ credit is also helped by other initiatives, such as the Soldiers and Sailors Credit Relief Act. Those called into active duty may qualify for reduced interest rate on mortgage payments, credit card debt and other loans (no more than 6 percent APR), protection from eviction if the rent is $1,200 or less and delay of all civil court actions, which include bankruptcy, foreclosure and bankruptcy. This allows the soldier to fully focus on his or her military duties while serving and postpone some civil obligations until they are relieved from duty.

If you are a solider about to deploy, make sure to warn your family about possible scams and prepare them to monitor your accounts and reports for you if needed. Be sure to know all your rights before you deploy so you can contest issues with your bank or credit bureau.

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