The threat of credit-card fraud or identity theft is ever-present, and it may seem impossible to know when you’re at risk and who might be trying to defraud you. Military personnel, particularly those who are deployed, are perhaps at a higher risk for these types of scams, as it’s harder to monitor your own credit reports or receive notifications about potentially fraudulent account activities while you’re away from home or in the field.
But there are tools available to minimize these risks, and a specific protection for those serving in the military.
Active-duty service members can set up a fraud alert, a special setting put in place through the three credit bureaus, that makes it more difficult for another person to open a credit account in your name. The protection requires that a business verify your identity before it can issue any new credit in your name. Additionally, the credit bureaus will remove your name from their marketing lists for unsolicited credit and insurance offers for two years, unless you ask to remain on the lists.
What Is an Active-Duty Alert?
An active-duty alert is a free service that’s available to service members who wish to reduce the risk of fraud or identity theft while serving on active duty or while on deployment. The alert encourages lenders and creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before granting new credit or making changes to an existing account. Extra steps can include a phone call to you to verify your identity.
How Long Does an Active-Duty Alert Last?
There is no charge for placing an active-duty alert and, once in place, it lasts for one year. After that, the alert can be renewed for the length of your deployment.
Placing an active-duty alert means your name will also be removed from pre-screened credit offers, unless you request not to be removed from these lists. This protection means fewer offers through the mail, and therefore fewer opportunities to be defrauded. The option for removal from offers should remain in effect for two years.
How to Place an Active-Duty Alert on Your Account
Requesting an active-duty alert is as easy as contacting any one of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. You only need to contact one of the three; the bureau you contact must inform the other two to place the active- duty fraud alert on your credit report. Again, placing the active-duty alert is a free service.
Here are the contact numbers for the three credit bureaus:
- Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
Inform the representative that you are on active duty (or an activated reservist) and request the active-duty credit alert on your account.
What Happens After Placement?
Once your active-duty credit alert is in place, the free and simple protection makes it more difficult for criminals to defraud you. Any potential lender is required to take extra steps to verify that it is you who is requesting credit, a step that typically happens via a phone call to a number you’ve designated in your active-duty credit alert request. Lenders may also take other steps in order to verify your identity.
Free Credit Monitoring for Active-Duty Service Members
As a service member, you don’t have to be on active duty or deployed to enjoy free and powerful credit protections. As of 2018, many military personnel have access to tools that can help you spot identity theft.
In response to a Federal Trade Commission rule implementing a 2018 law, the three nationwide credit reporting agencies now offer free electronic credit monitoring services to active-duty personnel and members of the National Guard. These services can alert you to mistakes or problems with your credit report, and even alert you to the unauthorized use of your personal information in order to obtain credit.
There is no cost for this monitoring. Once you have the service, you will be notified by phone call, mobile app, email, or text of certain changes to your credit file. These changes can include changes of address, payments that are more than 30 days late, bankruptcy information, foreclosures, liens, and new accounts opened in your name.
To activate this monitoring, you must contact each of the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
If you are struggling to manage your debt or finances while you serve on active duty and feel like you could benefit from advice, it may be time to contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency. Credit counselors are trained to offer advice on a range of financial roadblocks, and are required to offer advice that’s in your best interest. You’ll know all the best paths for improving your credit score, working through your debt and overcoming your financial struggles.
About The Author
Craig Richardson is a military veteran who started his journalism career while serving in the Navy. Following overseas deployments to the Med and Middle East, including service in Operation Desert Storm, he left for the private sector but continued with journalism. He has worked for several publishers and news organizations over nearly 30 years and continued to cover stories with ties to veterans and military affairs throughout his career.
- N.A. (ND) What To Know About Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts. Retrieved from https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-know-about-credit-freezes-fraud-alerts
- N.A. (2016, May 20) How To Place An Active Duty Credit Alert. Retrieved from https://www.military.com/paycheck-chronicles/2016/05/20/how-to-place-an-active-duty-credit-alert
- N.A. (2019, October 31) Military Service Members Can Obtain Free Credit Monitoring Starting on October 31. Retrieved from https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2019/10/military-service-members-can-obtain-free-credit-monitoring-starting-october-31
- J. White (2022, May 9) Military Personnel Can Add an Active-Duty Alert. Retrieved from https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/military-can-add-active-duty-alert/
- A. Koulousias (2019, October 31) Free electronic credit monitoring coming soon to the military. Retrieved from https://consumer.ftc.gov/consumer-alerts/2019/10/free-electronic-credit-monitoring-coming-soon-military