5 Things Military Families Should Know After the Equifax Breach

Equifax Data Breach 550px

The recent Equifax data breach allowed hackers to access the names, birth dates, social security numbers, and other sensitive data of over 140 million American’s this summer. In addition, over 200 thousand credit card numbers were stolen as well.

If you’re not sure your personal information was compromised in the breach, military consumer advocates advise you that you go here to find out if you’ve been impacted. You should also get your free credit report from all three credit bureaus to make sure there are no accounts or changes you don’t recognize. If it turns out your information was stolen, Equifax is offering a free credit freeze through November 21, 2017. 

While the above resources can be used by any American impacted by this breach, extra precautions should be taken where the military community is concerned. Members of the armed forces and their families are more susceptible to identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Military Task Force.

As if being part of a military family isn’t unique enough, the consequences that can occur when a military family’s information is exposed, and the way it’s handled may look a little different than the civilian community. Here’s are five things you really ought to know before your information gets sold to the highest bidder; and what you can do if it’s already happened.

Your information can go viral in minutes.

The FTC wanted to see just how long it would take identity thieves to access consumer information. They conducted a research project by creating a database with false information on 100 fake consumers. Within nine minutes of posting the information on a website frequently tolled by hackers, over 1,200 attempts were made to access all of the fake email addresses, payment and credit card accounts.

If your account data becomes public, they will use it. To limit your risk, make sure you use two-factor authentication whenever possible.

There’s a “bulls-eye” on your back.

Identity thieves love to target military families, because credit reporting agencies aren’t set up to assist military families who are always on the move. If your information is compromised, you’ll have to settle for a temporary fraud alert placed in your credit file. In order to get a permanent fraud alert for your credit report, consumers have to have a permanent address and phone number; which most military families don’t have.

To avoid the headache of identity theft, especially during a deployment or PCS move, the FTC recommends the service member sign up for “active-duty alerts” through the credit agencies. These alerts last for up to one year and require that the service member’s identity be verified before issuing credit in their name.

Credit Freeze vs Fraud Alert

If you’re confused about the difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert, you aren’t alone. A fraud alert will still allow creditors to pull your credit report, but requires additional verification on your part, much like the active-duty alerts. A credit freeze will prevent identity thieves from opening accounts in your name by restricting access to your report and locking down your credit completely.

There’s more than one way to steal your identity.

Massive data breaches, like the recent Equifax and Yahoo Breaches, aren’t the only way thieves can access your private information. Identity theft can happen in many different ways. Scammers often use phishing to gain access to your accounts, passwords or social security numbers by sending you email or text message links. You should never open a link from an unfamiliar sender.

Thanks to technology, skimming allows thieves to install card readers to credit card terminals; grabbing data off the magnetic strip found on credit and debit cards. They can even be installed on gas pumps where you won’t even notice it. It can be especially troublesome during PCS travel, for instance. You won’t even know your information has been stolen until you’re notified by your bank or creditor, and by then you could be clear across the country! Most credit companies offer free credit monitoring or alerts if they see any suspicious activity on your account, and we encourage you to take advantage of those benefits.

But identity theft can occur offline as well. Thieves still pick-pockets, steal mail and go through unlocked vehicles. Some still even dumpster dive looking for private information! Make sure to shred documents and bank statements before throwing them away and lock your car doors (even if you live on base).

Security clearances can be revoked.

For service members who experience fraud or identity theft, it could be more costly than you might think. If their credit history is blemished in any way, they could lose their security clearance. Depending on what their specialty is, losing that clearance could mean they lose their job.

It’s important for you and your service member to keep a close eye on your credit reports. You’re not required to access all three free credit reports at the same time on annualcreditreport.com. Instead, it’s recommended you space them out throughout the year to keep an eye on your credit history. If anything on your credit report indicates your information was stolen, it’s recommended you act fast and report it on IdentityTheft.gov to begin a recovery plan. The site will walk you step by step through the recovery process. It’s also recommended that your service member’s commanding officer be notified immediately to avoid any clearance issues.

Recovering your identity once it’s been stolen can be a lengthy and expensive process. Oftentimes, state authorities are reluctant to get involved when a service member’s isn’t technically a resident in that state or resides out of state. If you live aboard an installation, local authorities may not be able to help either, depending on where your service member is assigned.

Thankfully, the FTC and other military consumer advocates provide information on how to avoid these issues to begin with and can offer some help if you end up falling victim to identity theft.

Posted October 31, 2017

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