When a Soldier Comes Home to Identity Theft

Norman Rockwell painted soldiers coming home to open-armed relatives, hot meals and hard-earned rest. Rick Martinez’s homecoming wasn’t so heartwarming.

The National Guardsman returned from an 11-month stint in Iraq, only to find a tangled web of identity theft. Someone had tried to open credit card accounts in his name, using his personal information. He worried it would negatively impact his credit.

“I had heard horror stories about identities getting stolen when you’re overseas,” said Martinez, who also has served in Dubai and Colombia. “When you’re deployed, your only means of communicating is the Internet, and you’re dependent on foreign servers.”

Military personnel are at greater risk for identity theft because of their limited means of communication and the transient nature of their work. Long deployments and frequent relocations make it difficult to monitor bank accounts and credit card statements while abroad. In its 2013 Consumer Sentinel Report, the Federal Trade Commission noted that a full 37 percent of complaints filed by military personnel involved identity theft—compared with 18 percent of complaints in the general population.

Martinez tried to tackle the red tape on his own but quickly found himself stonewalled. He requested a free credit report and discovered the alias “Mary J. Richards,” an error so egregious it would have been funny if it didn’t have such serious ramifications. He called and wrote letters disputing the errors but made no progress. “There’s a mystique about it,” said Martinez. “You try to read the fine print and do what the fine print says, but it’s not happening. You see ‘Mary J. Richards’ on your credit report, and no one will help you.”

Martinez found the help he needed through Intelius, which offers CyberScout’s identity management services to its customers. Fraud Investigator Maria Valenzuela was assigned his case, and she:

• added a seven-year extended fraud alert to his credit files, which prevents new applications from being approved and entitles him to two free credit reports per year from each credit bureau;

• reviewed his credit reports with him to determine if any fraud existed; and

• removed his name and address from the nationwide pre-approval list, compiled by the credit bureaus and sold to their affiliates, who send pre-approved credit cards and insurance offers. (This is particularly helpful for military personnel who are not home to shred these offers.)

“Rick had taken all the right steps and made all the right phone calls,” Valenzuela said. “But it’s difficult to stamp out this kind of fraud, even when you’re a good investigator and you’re proactive like he was.”

Valenzuela recommends that active military:

• place a one-year active-duty alert on credit files, which requires potential creditors to confirm the applicant’s identity before issuing credit;

• notify credit card companies to place restrictions on card usage;

• have mail forwarded to a P.O. box or trusted relative; and

• check credit reports at least once a year at annualcreditreport.com.

“In your time of need,” Martinez added, “it’s good to know you can pick up the phone and there’s someone like Maria on the other end who’s going to listen, help and answer questions you haven’t even thought of yet.”