Details are still murky about the recent theft of federal government data and how it affects those in the military community.
Thousands of military spouses are federal employees, as well as National Guard and reserve members with civilian jobs in the federal government. Some active-duty troops who previously worked as federal civilian employees also may be affected.
But more information has emerged to indicate that hundreds of thousands of troops are potentially affected. The Office of Personnel Management said some of the hacked systems contain information about background investigations.
If this personal information was compromised, thieves might make fraudulent charges on your accounts, or steal your identity for nefarious purposes, such as opening new credit cards, filing fake tax returns and getting mortgages in your name, all without your knowledge. Identity theft is a lifelong problem, said Gary McAlum, chief security officer for USAA.
You can take steps to lessen the risk. If OPM notifies you that your personal information may have been compromised, start a file for all related documentation, starting with the notification letter from OPM. Use that information to file an affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission. If you see an indication that you've been the victim of identity theft, the affidavit will be the basis for your report, McAlum said.
He suggests contacting each of the credit reporting bureaus to ask for an extended fraud alert, which is good for seven years and will put much tighter restrictions on your report to make it difficult for people to get credit in your name.
The OPM letter will notify you about credit monitoring services and identity theft insurance to mitigate the risk of fraud and identity theft. Take advantage of those services. Also visit consumer.ftc.gov for information about protecting yourself from identity theft, and what to do if you suspect you are a victim.
1. Monitor your accounts; don't wait for your monthly statements before you check for fraudulent charges. Check them online or by phone and notify your financial institution immediately if you suspect fraud.
2. Ask your financial institution if it has alerts that you can sign up for, such as a notification when an address change is made on your account, or a request is made for a debit card.
3. Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. By law, you can get a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting companies. Space them out so you can check your credit every four months, rather than all three once a year. Look for charges you didn't authorize, or new accounts you didn't open.
4. Change the Personal Identification Number on your debit card and other accounts. If you can't log in or get access, call the financial institution immediately.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.