Protect yourself from identity theft

  • Published
  • By Capt. Gregory Justis and Staff Sgt. Derek Cox
  • 436th Staff Judge Advocate office

With challenging schedules, difficult jobs, and frequent relocation and travel, military members are especially vulnerable to identity theft. Identity theft occurs when your personal information is taken and used without your permission.

Skilled identity thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information - often without your knowledge, and despite your best efforts to guard it.

    1. Identity thieves may get information from businesses or other institutions by stealing records from businesses in which they work, bribing employees who have access to records, hacking records, or conning information out of other employees.

    2. Identity thieves may steal your mail, including bank or credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks, and tax information.

    3. Identity thieves may rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or public trash dumps.

    4. Identity thieves may abuse their employer’s authorized access to your personal information.

    5. Identity thieves may impersonate a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your data.

    6. Identity thieves may steal your credit or debit card numbers in a technique known as “skimming,” where thieves capture card information in a data storage device. This generally occurs when your card is swiped for an actual purchase, or may occur when a skimming device is attached to an ATM machine.

    7. Identity thieves may steal your wallet or purse.

    8. Identity thieves may complete a change of address form to divert your mail to an alternate location.

    9. Identity thieves may steal personal information they find in your home.

    10. Identity thieves may use a phone or email to engage in “phishing,” where thieves pose as a legitimate company and request personal information, often claiming that you have a problem with an account.

The methods used by identity thieves will vary and evolve over time, which makes prevention difficult. However, there are certain steps that you can take to prevent the identity theft or mitigate the damage it causes if it occurs:

    1. Monitor your bank and credit accounts, credit report, and credit score regularly
    2. Shred documents that contain personal information
    3. Delete and do not respond to messages that request personal information
    4. Use unique passwords for different accounts and change passwords regularly
    5. Update the security software and settings on your electronic devices regularly

Identity theft is a serious crime, and recovery can take months or even years. Take active steps to guard your personal information, and keep track of your finances and credit information – while these efforts may not stop identity theft entirely, they will go a long way towards prevention.

If you are the victim of identity theft or a scam, the steps should be taken as soon as possible:

    1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports

Contact one of the three major credit reporting firms (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) and request that a fraud alert be placed on your credit report. This may prevent the thief from opening any additional accounts using your personal information.

    2. Review your credit reports

Placing a fraud alert on your credit reports entitles you to free credit reports upon request. You should review your reports for any unauthorized or unexplained transactions, account, or other improper information.

    3. Create an Identity Theft Report

An Identity Theft Report can help remove fraudulent information from a credit report, stop companies from collecting debt that was created by an identity thief, and more. To create an Identity Theft Report, you must file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Once the complaint is filed, you will receive an Identity Theft Affidavit, which may be shown to local law enforcement investigating the incident. You can file a complaint by visiting the FTC website at

    4. Contact local law enforcement

Local law enforcement is the point of contact for any experiences you may have with identity theft. Provide law enforcement personnel with any documentation you have regarding the theft, including all relevant paperwork, correspondence, or other information. The more information you supply, the better.

    5. Contact your banking or credit provider

Contact your bank or credit provider as soon as possible with information regarding your experience. Many institutions, particularly banks that issue debit cards, have specific policies regarding identity theft and unauthorized charges, including zero-liability policies for unauthorized transactions made using their accounts. The company may require information from law enforcement, so be prepared to provide a copy of the police report.

    6. Contact federal agencies if victimized by fraud or a scam

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the FTC have personnel equipped to assist individuals who are victimized by fraud or a scam. They may be contacted using their respective websites. ( and

For further assistance, contact the Dover Air Force Base Legal Office at 677-3300.