Identity theft can ruin more than credit

***image1***Many military personnel and their families don’t realize how widespread identity theft has become, nor how personally vulnerable they can be. Nearly 10 million Americans were victimized last year, 41 percent more than the year before, at a cost to the U.S. economy of $53 billion. Thus, making identity theft the No. 2 most reported crime to the federal government in 2003, according to IDT Defense, a privately held corporation founded by military veterans.
Having a military ID, a driver’s license, a bank account or a credit card makes anyone a target for identity thieves. Personal information is the key that unlocks every aspect of financial life. Unfortunately, that makes all data a target for unscrupulous criminals to use a good name to obtain goods and services.
“The majority of incidents in the KMC involve debit or credit card fraud,” said Staff Sgt. Monte Jones, an investigator with the 435th Security Forces Squadron.
Becoming a victim of this crime can result in ruined credit and destroyed lives. An effective defense against identity theft is the best weapon to combat the risk of becoming a victim.
Military consumers should know strategies to protect personal and financial information.
Be selective
Before giving any personal information by mail, phone or over the Internet, confirm the organization is legitimate.
Be careful with mail
Mail is sensitive material. It contains personal and financial information. If needed, install a residential mailbox with a locking mechanism.

Guard the trash
Identity thieves also gather personal information from trash. Place garbage out on the morning of pickup rather than the night before.

Exercise caution online
Before making any purchase via your computer, look for the icon of a lock in the lower right-hand corner. If it’s there, it’s a secure site. If not, it would be safer to find another merchant.

Monitor credit reports
Many consumers don’t even realize their identity has been stolen until they are denied credit due to derogatory information on their credit reports. Register for a service that alerts customers of any changes in reports.
“Make sure all your financial information is secured at all times,” said Sergeant Jones. “Never leave your debit or credit cards in an unlocked office, dorm room or vehicle. Never store your cards with your personal identification numbers, and never loan them out.”
If military members feel they may have been a victim of identity theft, they should contact their bank or issuing credit agency immediately, said Sergeant Jones.
If physical theft was involved, they should contact the nearest law enforcement desk. (Courtesy IDT Defense)