Active-duty servicemembers are three times more likely than their civilian counterparts to be victims of identity theft, according to a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission. In part, that’s an unfortunate byproduct of the military’s mobile lifestyle. Anybody who’s navigated frequent deployments or PCS moves can attest to the financial upheaval and confusion that can be a norm of military life.
While those in uniform may be more vulnerable, anybody can take a few basic steps to protect themselves and their families. Read on for 10 tips on how to stay ahead of fraudsters:
Don’t share your card or personal information. This should go without saying, but the importance of keeping your personal and security information private cannot be overstated. This wall of privacy stands between you and the bad guys. And remember, your bank or financial institution won’t ever proactively reach out to you and ask for personal information, security codes, passwords or accounts.
Beware of phishing. The fact that your bank won’t ask for those details doesn’t stop fraudsters from reaching out to you via email, text or phone to entice you to give them the information they need to do you wrong. They might represent themselves as your bank, a humanitarian cause or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Don’t click on links or embedded text, and hang up on robocalls. Steer clear of these engagements; they are all moving you one step closer to being a victim.
Instead, use the tools your company provides. Accessing forms, tools, statements, and making requests via your financial institution’s apps or website – or a calling a verified phone number directly – are all safer business transactions. Most companies offer additional security measures, like multi-factor authentication, which requires you to enter a code typically sent to your verified phone or email address prior to accessing the site/app. This added step is a great way to increase your safety.
Review transactions. You can detect fraudulent activity early by frequently reviewing your account activity. Early detection allows you to freeze or close accounts. With some accounts, for example, checking, the earlier you report fraud, the less you can be held responsible. If you see something that looks irregular, contact your financial institution immediately.
Regularly check credit reports. This report reflects various credit lines and provides an at-a-glance indication if there are accounts established by an unsavory third party. You can get a free report annually from each of the credit agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Create alerts. Your bank can send you text alerts if you spend more than the limit you’ve set for your credit and debit cards. You can also set up fraud alerts or alerts that can be triggered by a credit inquiry.
Watch your Wi-Fi. Fraudsters can establish fake Wi-Fi hubs in public settings and entice you to connect to access your data. Be cautious when signing on to any Wi-Fi outside your personal network. And when it comes to your own Wi-Fi, protect it with a complex password.
Go on the offense. The old saying “the best defense is a good offense” doesn’t exactly work here, but being proactive and taking advantage of active-duty alerts, fraud alerts and credit freezes can reduce the likelihood of fraud. Learn more about these options by searching the terms at www.ftc.gov.
Don’t forget about your kids. Kids can be a prime target of identity theft. If your child’s personal information is compromised, you might not find out about it until you start getting bills in their name, inquiries from the IRS, or denials for government benefits like student loan applications. To see if your child has been a victim, contact the credit bureaus and ask if he or she has a credit report — unless you were involved, they shouldn’t. If your child has been victimized, contact the fraud department of the companies involved, and follow up with the big three credit bureaus to place a credit freeze in your child’s name.
Report and recover. If you do fall victim to identity theft, visit identity theft.gov to report the incident. Follow their step-by-step guidelines to recover.
Have your own tips to share? We'd love to hear them in the comments.
About the Author: JJ Montanaro is a Certified Financial Planner® professional and part of the Military Affairs team at USAA. He’s a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and has over 20 years of financial planning experience.
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