Q&A: Protect Your Identity While You're Deployed

Kim Lankford shares advice to keep identity thieves from hijacking your credit when called to active duty.

Q: I am in the Army and am about tobe deployed. Should I put an activedutyalert on my credit report?

That's a great idea. An active-dutyalert can protect you from identitytheft, which is particularly importantwhile you are deployed and willhave a tough time monitoring yourmail and accounts.

An active-duty alert notifies creditorsthat you're on military activeduty and asks them to take extraprecautions to verify the identityof the applicant before extendingcredit. Include the phone number ofa trusted friend or family memberfor creditors to call and verify youridentity while you're inaccessible (besure to give them a heads up thatyou've chosen them).

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This alert stays on your creditfile for one year and also lets youopt out for two years of promotionalmail -- such as preapprovedcredit-card offers that could leaveyou susceptible to ID theft whileyou're away from home.

To place an active-duty alert, contact one of thethree credit bureaus (Experian.com,Equifax.com or TransUnion.com),which will notify the other two. You'llgenerally find the information in thesection of the bureaus' Web sitesthat focuses on fraud alerts.

The alert is free and will not affectyour ability to use credit while you'redeployed. It just helps to prevent IDthieves from taking out new credit inyour name.

If you'd like extra protection,consider a credit freeze. The costtends to be $10 per bureau ($30 forall three) to place and lift a creditfreeze, but the freeze does preventpotential creditors from accessingyour credit report without yourpermission.

Also review your credit-card andbank accounts online if possiblewhile deployed, so you can catch anysuspicious activity before you return.

MAIN: PERSONAL FINANCE GUIDE FOR MILITARY FAMILIES