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Identity Theft a Growing Problem for Military Members

Posted On   date03/04/2014

Identity Theft a Growing Problem for Military Members

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces are now the target of a new enemy: internet criminals.  Military service members are being impacted by con-artists operating online in more ways than one.  On one hand, scammers are increasingly creating fake profiles on online dating sites and social networking sites to scam unsuspecting victims.  Such profiles often assume the identity of a real soldier, or steal the identity of a real person, making it very hard for the victim to verify.  Scammers are also targeting soldiers directly via phishing emails, foreclosure scams and other types fraud.  The problem has gotten the attention of high command.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, for military consumers identity theft was the number one complaint category in the Consumer Sentinel Network report for 2013, followed by impostor scams at number two. Foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams ranked as the seventh highest category for military members, in contrast to seventeenth highest for the population as a whole.  Clearly, online criminals are targeting service men and women and see the group as a profitable niche.

Identity theft is a continuous risk for soldiers because it provides a believable way for scammers to back up their stories: they are away from home in a faraway land, with Internet connection problems, they´re lonely and unable to access certain goods, they depend on a bad mail service to deliver their checks, etc. Victims of online romance scams find themselves moved by the fact that a lonely soldier is having a hard time, and agree –or even offer – to help in any way they can before verifying the facts.

Romance is not the only tactic used. Fraudsters use soldiers’ identities to contact people by email and state they are having trouble to get back home. Victims often feel obliged to help a man or woman who is serving the country and has been abandoned, after all, who wouldn’t? Sometimes it’s their “children” or other family members who are experiencing some kind of hardship and they need financial assistance.  Many of the online scammers are located in West Africa and Eastern Europe.  But, investigators caution today’s line of internet crooks can come from anywhere, even right down the road in a neighborhood near you.

To lower the risk, experts agree knowledge of the warning signs are important, and background check investigations continue to be an effective tool in fraud and scam prevention.

Military members and internet users can stay safe by:

  1. Take measures to shield personal data. With so many social networks and easier ways to stay in touch with family and friends online, people tend to share too much. For soldiers, isolation is a tough thing to cope with and Facebook makes them feel closer. But be careful! Most victims of identity theft had their information and pictures stolen from a social network. Try to set up your accounts as private, and regularly check that your info cannot be accessed by anyone except people you know
  2. Look yourself up on the internet. If someone is using your name and pictures to scam other people, you´ll probably find out with a search. Some websites offer listings of scammers and the names and pictures they use. Maybe it´s a good idea to check if your name or pictures are listed there.  Conduct your searches on private search engines like DuckDuckGo for better and safer results.
  3. Monitor financial statements and credit reports. If you´re being a victim of identity theft, you´ll probably notice something weird going on here. So keep your eyes open to anything that does not seem normal.  U.S. citizens are entitled to a free credit report once per year, and you can order this information directly from the official site at Annual Credit Report.com.
  4. Never provide your social security number, real date of birth or passport number to anyone you meet online! Trusted merchants will give you options and documents to confirm that it is ok to hand them the information when it’s absolutely necessary, but even then exercise great caution.  Never click on links in a suspicious email.  Remember, even the U.S. govt can’t protect their data.
  5. Official government sites like the Embassy of the United States in London have issued warnings and permanently posted information on Internet fraud. Check it out and make sure you are aware of scammers most recent tactics.  You can protect yourself by learning their game.

If you meet someone online claiming to be a soldier, take the time to verify.

C. Wright
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