Those who serve the nation are finding themselves at a much greater risk of being the victims of cybercrime and identity theft, according to a recent study by the Federal Trade Commission.
Active duty service members are 76 percent more likely to report that an identity thief misused one of their accounts, such as a bank account or credit card, according to the FTC.
The report, released in May, also found that active duty service members are nearly three times as likely to report that someone used a debit card or some other electronic means to take money directly from their bank account.
This finding, according to the report, suggests that service members “are experiencing highly disproportionate instances of theft from their financial accounts compared to the general population.”
They are also 22 percent more likely to report that their stolen information was misused to open a new account, especially new credit card accounts.
Keeping a close eye on credit reports, which can help someone spot early warning signs, “can be difficult for active duty troops,” according to the FTC. “They report that creditors often send notices to old addresses, which may delay their ability to act on warning signs, such as bills from unknown creditors or unexpected credit card charges.”
The FTC said 20 percent of active duty service member reports indicate that they have already experienced two or more types of identity theft.
Kristin Judge, the CEO and founder of the Cybercrime Support Network (CSN) — a nonprofit working to fight cybercrime — said there are several reasons service members are susceptible to these crimes.
One reason, she said, is that troops are used to getting information from federal agencies that they have to click on and cybercriminals can take advantage of that by disguising themselves as entities of the government.
Additionally, frequent moving provides an opportunity for housing and rental scams, and if someone is on active duty, they may not be reachable. In this case, if a spouse or someone else at home notices fraudulent activity, they may not be able to discuss it, delaying the response time.
Rachel Dooley, the Chief Marketing Officer of CSN and a military spouse, added that the reliance on the internet by frequently mobile individuals and families creates a breeding ground for people to click and accidentally overshare information.
“When you move a lot or you’re isolated and relying solely on the internet to learn about new schools, doctors, sporting events, housing, cars, or loans, you’re pulled into that world and cybercriminals know it,” she said.
Dooley warned that cybercriminals can take advantage of those who are distracted.
All of these factors contribute to servicemembers’ susceptibility to cybercrimes and the criminals have gotten exceptionally crafty. Their main tool, according to Judge, is “social engineering” — convincing targets that they are dealing with a legitimate entity.
“To do social engineering well,” she said, “you just have to spend some time on the internet and gather facts about someone that could make it more personalized, so that what you send them sounds real.”
A thief could find enough information to send a message that includes names of family members, someone’s rank, when and where they served, and more — and then use that to claim they are acquaintances and ask for money or more personal details.
“You could put that together pretty quickly if you just do a search on someone online, because we put so much information about ourselves out there,” Judge said.
Additionally, cybercriminals will target locations around military posts and bases, according to Dooley.
She said “the information is out there, but then they also know geographically how to geotarget people and pretty much be able to come up with someone of that demographic,” meaning that there can be predatory rentals for houses and cars targeting service members at bases.
Recovering from cybercrimes can be a large challenge and take months to years to resolve, but steps can be taken to avoid being victimized by a scam. CSN has identified “three golden rules” to keep in mind.
The first is to “slow it down” — take your time and ask questions to avoid being rushed into a scam. After that comes doing your research and confirming that whoever is contacting you is actually who they are. Lastly, never pay someone on the spot – if something does not seem quite right, it probably is not.
“If we can get the three golden rules out to the military community and before they clicked on something, sent money, or followed through, if they went through these three golden rules, then we may be able to stop them from being impacted by a scam,” Dooley said.
The FTC recommends MilitaryConsumer.gov as a resource for servicemembers, veterans, and their families to avoid scams and manage money.
Here are a few things you can do now to protect yourself:
*Check your bank account regularly. Report a lost or stolen debit card or unauthorized transactions immediately. Your bank may have a service to alert you to every transaction or transactions over a certain amount.
*To prevent someone from misusing your debit or credit cards, many banks will let you temporarily lock or freeze your card online or through their mobile app. You can quickly and easily unlock the card at any time the same way.
*Don’t give out authentication information – including PIN numbers or verification codes – to anyone who calls, emails, or texts you. If you didn’t initiate the contact, you can bet it’s a scam.
*Sign up for free credit monitoring, available to active duty servicemembers, to get notifications of activity on your credit reports.
*Put an active duty alert on your credit reports if you’re deploying. Alerts last a year (you can renew) and require creditors to take steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name.
*Even if you’re not deploying, consider placing a fraud alert if you suspect identity theft. Consider a credit freeze if you want a bit more protection and if it fits your situation.now your rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Talk with a Personal Financial Manager or your military legal assistance office to learn more.
*Go to IdentityTheft.gov to report and get a plan to recover from identity theft.
More resources and preventative measures for military personnel and families can be found here.