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Family Matters Blog: Blogger Urges Readers to Protect Identities

By Heather Forsgren Weaver
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2010 – Heather Forsgren Weaver of American Forces Press Service is a regular contributor to Family Matters. In this blog, Heather gives tips to servicemembers and their families on how to protect their identities.

My Credit Card Company Thought I Went to Disney World

 

In the fall of 2007, I was planning a trip to Disney World when I found out that I needed to be in New York for business that same week. So I canceled my Disney World reservations and made new reservations and went to New York.

To keep my business expenses separate, I took a rarely used credit card with me to New York. Because I didn't use that card very often, I didn't think it was necessary to go online and check my charges. I just waited for the bill to come. That was a mistake.

When the bill came, not only were the charges that I made in New York on it, there was a large charge to none other than Disney World as well!

Since I couldn't be (and wasn't) in two places at the same time, I knew the charge wasn't mine.

I was lucky because it only took a couple of phone calls and some paperwork to get the charge removed, close the account and get a new card.

I also was lucky because any attempts by whoever stole my credit-card number (I still had the card) to steal my complete financial identity were quickly thwarted.

Others are not so lucky. The Federal Trade Commission estimates 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year, and many of those spend hundreds of dollars and many hours to resolve the problem.

Although there are new laws to try to prevent identity theft, everyone must be vigilant, and diligent, about identity protection. This is especially true for servicemembers who may move around a lot, or be deployed.

 

Deploying servicemembers is activating "an active-duty alert," which requires creditors to obtain specific permission from a servicemember or an official representative before extending credit. There is no charge for active-duty alerts, Dave Julian, the director of the Defense Department's Personal Finance Office, told me, and they last for one year and can be extended.

Active-duty alerts can be activated by calling the toll-free fraud telephone number for one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. That company is required to notify the other two companies that a servicemember has activated a duty alert.

Servicemembers and their families can also protect themselves by putting a "freeze" on their credit report to restrict access to it. Once a freeze is in place, potential creditors and other third parties will not be able to get access to a credit report unless the freeze is lifted.

Credit-freeze laws vary from state to state. In some states, only identity-theft victims can freeze their credit. The cost of placing, temporarily lifting or removing a credit freeze also varies. Many states make credit freezes free for identity theft victims, but depending upon where they live, others may pay a fee of typically $10 to each of the three credit-reporting agencies.

Finally, everyone should request a copy of their credit report every year from each credit-reporting agency, Julian told me. Since there are three credit-reporting agencies, he suggested requesting a different copy from a separate agency every four months.

If you use credit cards, don't make the mistake I made and wait for the bill to arrive. Instead, go online and check your charges frequently. Be sure you completely log out of your account, especially if you are using a public or shared computer, or are accessing your account from a public Wi-Fi connection.

The Federal Trade Commission has also developed a variety of resources which can be found on its identity theft website.

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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