Ready to have your mind blown? Since 2005 there have been more than 700 security breaches among government and military organizations. Between veterans and active duty family members, that’s more than 45 million people affected. The VA alone has had 20 data breaches reported between 2006-2015.
But let’s go back to that gigantic number: 45 million people with their data compromised.
I don’t know about you, but those huge numbers make me a little more than worried.
Military families are ripe for the picking when it comes to online thieves and creepy crawlers. We move around, our information is in a lot of systems and we’re often specifically targeted. And yet, it seems that many of us avoid taking basic steps to keep ourselves and our families safe. We worry about OPSEC and PERSEC and we need to worry about our keeping our identities safe too.
If you’re not sure where to start, if you feel like the issue is too massive, too scary or if you’ve been putting it off because you don’t want to face the music, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.
10 Tips for Preventing Identity Theft Before It Happens to You
If you or your spouse is gearing up to deploy or is already deployed, put an active-duty alert on your credit reports. This will make it easier to work with financial organizations in case your identity is stolen while you or your spouse is away.
If you or your spouse’s military ID is stolen, get ahead of it. Don’t wait around once you discover it has been lost or stolen. Report it immediately as stolen and let the command know so you can take the necessary measures needed.
Protect Your Passwords
Your ATM pin shouldn’t be your birthday. Your password shouldn’t be abc123 or password. Create passwords that are strong and avoid using the same password over and over again—especially when it comes to passwords for your finances.
Often thieves will test your bank account or credit card by spending small amounts of money. If they’re not caught or locked out, they’ll spend larger and larger amounts. Make sure you and your spouse keep a dialogue open about your spending habits and make sure that you watch your financial statements enough that you can catch anomalies before they become huge problems.
If someone comes to you with a too-good-to-be-true offer or with a threatening message, don’t get flustered. Instead, do your homework. If you get an email from your financial institution asking you for important banking information, call your bank and ask them to confirm that the email is legitimate.
If someone wants information from you with the offer of bonuses or easy money, back away now.
And of course, if a Nigerian prince wants you to forward money to a bank account, definitely believe him. That’s a joke. Don’t do that. Delete the email.
Keep Up with the Times
Make sure that you’re keeping up with financial news as it pertains to data breaches. If you’re afraid that your information has been compromised, take action as necessary. That might be getting new credit cards, changing your passwords, closing accounts or putting an alert on your credit scores.
The FTC has a wonderful page of updated information, scam alerts and help specifically for military families. Other resources regarding identity theft and the military are also available from institutions like Navy Federal and USAA.
Never Send Money
If someone befriends you online and asks you for money, make sure you see red flags. Regardless of their sob story, back away. Back. Away.
Play Your Cards Close to Your Chest
Treat your financial information with the same reverence that you do PERSEC and OPSEC. Don’t login to important websites that house your credit card and financial information on computers that aren’t yours or aren’t on your home network.
Don’t give other people your password or access to accounts that have your financial information (cough-sharing-Netflix-and-Amazon-accounts-cough).
Don’t forget to log out and clear the cookies and cache if you do have to use someone else’s computer or phone to login to pay bills or view credit card information.
Enable Two-Step Authentication
If your financial institutions and other accounts allow you to, use two-step authentication to log in. This will usually mean that you’ll need to either choose 2 different credentials (ie. a password and a photo-password) or you’ll have to use your phone as a second step for logging in. This adds an extra layer of protection: the thief will have to guess or know two kinds of information or have your phone in order to access your accounts.
As our world becomes increasingly connected and increasingly digital, there will be more opportunities for those in the shadows to keep coming up with new ways to take what isn’t theirs.