By Frank Lewis
If you are a member of the U.S. military, Wednesday is a special day set aside for you to be educated about identity theft. Wednesday (July 15) is Military Consumer Protection Day and as that day approaches, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is warning service members to watch for signs of identity theft.
“Anyone can be affected by identity theft, but if you’re a military family, it can be especially difficult to deal with,” DeWine said. “A few years ago, I created an Identity Theft Unit to help people correct the damage caused by identity theft. Since then, we’ve helped thousands of people. We want to remind service members and all Ohioans that we’re here to help.”
The Attorney General’s Identity Theft Unit is designed to help victims correct the effects of identity theft, such as fraudulent accounts or credit reporting errors. Since its creation in 2012, the unit has received more than 3,300 complaints and has helped to adjust or clear approximately $900,000, according to consumer complaint data.
Identity theft occurs when someone obtains and uses an individual’s personal information without permission to commit fraud. The effects of identity theft can be especially hard on military members and their families. In 2014, identity theft was the number one military complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, representing 27 percent of all military consumer complaints. DeWine said signs of identity theft include unexpected letters or phone calls; bills for a credit card you never opened; a letter saying you opened a new credit card that you didn’t open; a card member agreement for a bank you’re not associated with and a cell phone bill that is inaccurate.
DeWine said people should look for collection calls for loans they never took out and bank and credit report problems as well as credit card charges they never made appearing on their account. Other signs include a credit score that’s lower than you expected as well as credit report errors such as an unexpected mortgage loan or other people’s addresses on your credit report.
Identity theft can also cause issues with law enforcement and government; wrongful arrest or warrants for your arrest; trouble getting a driver license; another person’s name showing up in your background check and not receiving expected tax documents or your tax refund.
DeWine said military members and their families can help protect themselves from identity theft by taking the following steps:
- Monitor your bank accounts. Look for suspicious activity, and if you find any errors, immediately notify your bank, or credit or debit card provider.
- If you’re an active-duty service member, place an “active duty alert” on your credit report. This will inform the credit reporting agencies that you are deployed and should not be opening new lines of credit. With the alert in place, you will be notified if an identity thief attempts to open a line of credit in your name.
- If your personal information has been compromised in a data breach, place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion — to place the alert, which will stay on your credit report for 90 days. The alert is free and will make it more difficult for someone to open credit in your name.
- Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report. A security freeze essentially puts a lock on your credit so that most third parties can’t access your report. Contact each credit reporting agency to place a freeze.
- Check your credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You can pull all three at once, or you can stagger pulling your reports throughout the year.
Consumers who believe they have been the victim of identity theft should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 800-282-0515 or www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.