Preventative Law Series: Keeping our identity safe

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Mary Mazzarini
  • 374th Airlift Wing
You may have seen the Citibank commercials alerting people to the dangers of identity theft: a grandma sits in a rocking chair, rocking back and forth, but when she speaks her voice is gruff and male and the voice talks of spending thousands of dollars on basketball tickets, a fifty-inch flat screen television and new camping equipment. The commercial is funny, but the message is not. Little old grandma has just paid for the young man's entertainment. He has stolen her identity.
Identity theft is problem that we see regularly in the base legal office.
In today's technological world, there are a variety of easy ways for a thief to access someone's personal information.
Think about how many times a day you provide bits and pieces of your personal information, whether it is mailing your tax forms, applying for or using a credit card, checking your bank account online, or providing your social security number. In our information-centered world it is important to take steps to protect yourself from falling victim to identity theft.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that the average identity theft victim is unaware that a problem exists for 12 months. The longer a thief has access to a person's identity, the worst the situation is likely to be when the problem is discovered.
People whose identities have been stolen spend months, sometimes years, and lots of money trying to clear their name and credit record. Once a person's credit is destroyed they may be unable to purchase a new car or home, or open a credit card, until it is corrected.
Minimize Your Risks:
One way to minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft is to remain vigilant. Order a copy of your credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
In the United States, annual credit reports are now free at You are also entitled to a free credit report if a company takes adverse action against you. If you check regularly, you may be able to catch problems before they wreak havoc on your finances.
Second, guard mail and trash from theft by shredding papers with personal information, depositing outgoing mail in post office boxes, and putting a hold on mail if you are assigned to temporary duty or deployed.
Third, secure information in your home, at work and on computers. Use non-accessible passwords on accounts; do not give out personal information unless you have initiated the contact; try to avoid using your social security number unless it is required and update your computer's virus protection software and firewall programs regularly.
Fourth, be aware of your credit card companies' policy on identity theft. You may want to purchase insurance to avoid being responsible for charges you did not make.
Active Duty Alert:
Amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act have created greater protection against identity theft risks for active-duty members away from their usual duty station. Now, active-duty members may request an "active duty alert" be placed on their credit report before deploying. This alert will require creditors to verify your identity before granting credit in your name. The law allows you to use a personal representative to place or remove the alert. The alert is effective for a year, but it may be removed sooner or extended longer. To use this feature, call one of the three major creditor bureaus toll free fraud numbers.
Victim to Identity Theft:
If you fall victim to identity theft you should take several steps as soon as you discover the fraud:
· Place a fraud alert and a victim's statement on your credit report by contacting the three major credit bureaus listed above.
· Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
· File a police report and ask for a copy of the report for your records.
· Complete an ID Theft Affidavit and send it to companies where new accounts were fraudulently opened in your name.
· Report your complaint to the Federal Trade Commission to help law enforcement track down and stop identity thieves.
Remember to keep copies of any supporting documents, such as receipts, e-mails, phone calls or anything else that may help in the investigation to clear your name.
Bottom line, minimize your risks of falling victim to identity theft. Act now to ensure that you do not become the source of a Citibank identity theft commercial in the future.
The wing legal office in building 315 is open for legal assistance Monday and Wednesday from 9 to 11 a.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m. Appointments may also be made for emergencies by calling 225-8069.