COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine last week warned service members to watch for signs of identity theft. The warning came following the announcement of recent federal data breaches and prior to Military Consumer Protection Day, July 15.
“Anyone can be affected by identity theft, but if you’re a military family, it can be especially difficult to deal with,” Attorney General 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 helps 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.
Signs of identity theft include:
• Unexpected letters or phone calls
• Bills for a credit card you never opened.
• Letter saying you opened a new credit card that you didn’t open.
• Card member agreement for a bank you’re not associated with.
• Cell phone bill that’s inaccurate.
• Collection calls for loans you never took out.
• Bank and credit report problems
• Credit card charges you never made appearing on your account.
• A credit score that’s lower than you expected.
• Credit report errors, such as an unexpected mortgage loan or other people’s addresses on your credit report.
• Issues with law enforcement and government
• Wrongful arrest or warrants out for your arrest. (For example you’re pulled over for a minor traffic violation and the officer says there are warrants out for your arrest for a crime you did not commit.)
• Trouble getting a driver’s license.
• Another person’s name showing up in your background check.
• Not receiving expected tax documents or your tax refund.
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.