Members of the military now have a way to help minimize the risk of identity theft while they are deployed. An “active duty” alert on a credit report requires creditors to take extra steps to verify a person’s identity before granting credit in their name. When military personnel ask for an “active duty” alert, they receive a copy of their credit score, and their names are removed from prescreen offer lists for credit cards or loans. The Federal Trade Commission has issued a Consumer Alert, available at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/dutyalrt.htm, describing how military personnel can place the alerts on their report, and what happens when there is an alert.
Military personnel can put an alert on their credit report when they are away from their usual duty station. The “active duty” alerts are designed to help reduce the risk of identity theft by making it more difficult to grant credit to the deployed member of the armed forces while they are away. Anyone with a credit inquiry may try to contact the military person directly, but because this may be impossible while they are deployed, the law allows members of the military to use a personal representative to place or remove an alert. The alerts are effective for one year, unless there is a request to remove them sooner. Another alert can be placed if deployment lasts longer than a year.
Anyone placing an alert should be ready to provide proof of their identity, including their name, Social Security number, address, and other personal information. Members of the military can place an “active duty” alert, or have one removed from their credit report, by contacting any one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies:
Whichever company is contacted is responsible for contacting the other two, and must give the service member a copy of their credit score. All three companies will add the alert once one company is contacted. Anyone who places an alert should remember to update their contact information if it changes before the alert expires.
In addition to alerting creditors about deployment, placing the alert also removes the service member’s name from the nationwide consumer reporting companies’ marketing lists for prescreened offers of credit and insurance for two years. Prescreened offers, which are sometimes called “preapproved” offers, are based on information in a person’s credit report showing they meet a certain set of criteria. The military personnel can ask to have their name added to the list again before the two year time period if they wish.
Credit reports contain information about where a consumer lives, how they pay their bills, and whether they have been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide consumer reporting companies sell the information from these reports to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate applications for credit, and other applications, including insurance, employment, or renting a home. The new right to place an “active duty” alert on a credit report comes from amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). To learn more about identity theft and credit rights under the FCRA, visit http://www.ftc.gov/credit. Any member of the armed forces who has a consumer complaint can file it online at http://www.consumer.gov/military.
Copies of the consumer alert are available from the FTC’s website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt147.shtm and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.