Service Members Risk Identity Theft

A new report by West Point Prof. Gregory Conti urges the military to reform its practices to protect service members from identity theft. Conti reports that service members and their families are burdened with a work environment that shows little regard for their personal information resulting in frequent theft of their identities.

The Navy and Marines have recently made efforts to limit the use of social security numbers. Military ID cards no longer include the number. But Conti said the situation had not really changed: “The farther you get away from the flagpole at headquarters, those policies get overturned by operational realities..

Social security numbers are useful to identity thieves because they serve as crucial identifiers interfacing with banks and credit card companies. The thieves open accounts in the service members names leading to ruined credit reports and problems for military personnel getting security clearances or promotions.

In 2009, Social Security numbers were used in 32 percent of identity thefts in which the victims knew how their information was compromised, according to Javelin Strategy and Research, which tracks identity theft.

Javelin last looked at identity theft in the military in 2006, finding that 3.3 percent of active military personnel had been victims of such fraud that year, slightly below the 3.7 percent in the public at large. Over all, identity theft is on the rise; in 2009, the nationwide rate crept up to 4.8 percent, with each person losing $373 on average, Javelin estimated.

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