Robbery provokes identity theft measures

Capt. Jennifer Lovett
USAFE News Service

Documents containing personal information were stolen from the home of
a Department of Veterans Affairs employee in May, representing the
largest unauthorized release of social security numbers in U.S.

The electronic data files contained the names, birth dates and social
security numbers of approximately 26.5 million service members and

“The veterans affected include members discharged after 1975 as well as
spouses and some veterans discharged even earlier who submitted a claim
for VA benefits,” said Maj. Katherine Oler, U.S. Air Forces in Europe
legal office lawyer. “Although there is no indication that this
information has been used fraudulently or that any financial
information has been assessed, a member’s social security number can
often serve as a thief’s stepping stone to important personal financial

According to a 2006 Better Business Bureau study, 8.9 million people
have been victims of identity fraud, resulting in $56.6 billion in
losses in 2006. This sets the stage for larger numbers than 2005, which
saw 9.3 million victims.

“One in four U.S. households has been the victim of identity theft in
the past five years,” said Major Oler. “The Federal Trade Commission
notes that 13.3 people become the victims of identity theft every

Military members should take steps to protect their personal and financial information.

“It is far easier to take steps to prevent identity theft than to
address the problem after the fact,” said Major Oler. “Monitoring
accounts online is the best way to detect fraud early.”

The three national credit-reporting agencies also provide fraud alerts
to those who report potential identity theft. The companies, Equifax,
TransUnion and Experian, are required by federal law to notify each
other if they receive an alert.

“Once the member creates the fraud alert to one company, that company
is required to let the other two know,” said Major Oler. “The company
will also provide a free credit report.

“Military members should review this report to ensure all their
financial information is accurate,” she said. “Reviewing these reports
also helps identify unauthorized accounts or activities.”

Credit reports can be obtained anytime by calling 1-877-322-8228 or by
completing the Annual Credit Report request form available at and mailing it to Annual Credit Report Requesting
Service, P.O. Box 10528, Atlanta, Ga., 30348-5281.

For further information, contact the base legal office. (Information
for this article was compiled from the USAFE legal office, the Equifax
and USAA websites)

If you believe you are the victim of identity theft:
1. Immediately contact the financial institution
2. Close all affected accounts
3. Contact the local office of special investigations
4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
5. Place a fraud alert on consumer report

To protect personal and financial information:
1. Create and maintain password privacy
2. Monitor bank and credit card statements for fradulent activity and keep all carbon copies
3. Shred or erase anything with personal information such as CDs,
memory sticks, hard drive data as well as hard copies when no longer
4. Be wary of providing personal or financial data by internet, e-mail or over the telephone