Many Soldiers might respond to questions about identity theft by asking, “Seriously, who’d want to be you?” but identity theft is in fact not a joking matter.

Recently, a government laptop computer was stolen that may contain identifying information (name, Social Security Number, and payroll information) for each and every Tranining and Doctrine Command and Department of the Army civilian. The Army Criminal Investigation Command and civilian authorities are currently investigating the situation. Although there is currently no evidence that the data has even been compromised, let alone used illegally, the event sheds light on just how ill-equipped most of us are to deal with identity theft.

To prevent identity theft, awareness and common sense are key. First of all, no legitimate organization or entity should ever have to contact you by telephone or e-mail to ask for or confirm personal information. If approached in one of these ways, go directly to the source so that you know your information is safe. However, the Federal Trade Commission has determined that many incidents of identity theft do not come from these more common concerns. In fact, the more severe occurrences of identity theft are often committed through the use of tangible documents obtained from the victims’ garbage and/or by people the victims know. The lesson to be learned is that when it comes to your identity, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Although exactly which actions to take will vary depending upon individual circumstances, nearly everyone who fears they have been the victim of identity theft should follow four basic steps:

Step One – Fraud Alert

If you believe someone has used your information illegally, immediately contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus and request that the agency place a fraud alert in your file. If the credit bureau does not do so automatically, ask that it also insert a victim’s statement asking that creditors call before opening any new accounts or changing existing accounts. Once one agency institutes an alert, the other two will routinely be notified and do the same. The credit bureaus will send copies of your credit report for your careful review to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts were opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to existing accounts.

To report fraud:

Equifax – 800-525-6285

Experian – 888-397-3742

TransUnion – 800-680-7289

These companies have also established a single Web site, www.annualcreditreport.com, that will allow you to access all three of your credit reports once per year for free. For a charge, you can receive more frequent reports or additional information such as your credit score. Each company also provides instructions on how to dispute entries on your credit report.

Step Two – Banking

If you find that an account has been fraudulently accessed or opened, contact the security departments of the appropriate creditors or financial institutions and close the account. When opening a new account, use a new PIN and password. Ask the security representative about the company’s fraud dispute resolution system. Often, if the security department can prove that the access was fraudulent, your money will be refunded. Under the Truth-In-Lending Act and the Fair Credit Billing Act, if you report to the credit card issuer that your card is lost or stolen, you cannot be held responsible for more than $50 of unauthorized charges. Moreover, if you send a written notice to the credit card issuer within 60 days, it must investigate and either correct the error or explain why the bill is believed to be correct within two billing cycles or 90 days, whichever is less.

Step Three – Police Report

File a report with local police, and get a copy of the report in case the bank, credit card company, or others involved need proof of the crime. If you can show you have suffered an actual identity theft or harm due to fraudulent activity or misuse of account information, you should not have a problem filing a local police report about the incident. Provide as much documentation as you can to prove your case, including debt collection reports, credit reports, or other evidence of fraudulent activity. If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a “Miscellaneous Incidents” report, or try another jurisdiction, like your state police. Be persistent; many creditors require a police report to resolve your dispute. So ask for a copy, or at the very least the number of the report. Step Four – Federal Agencies

Finally, the best resource available concerning identity theft is the Federal Trade Commission. If you have been a victim of identity theft you should definitely also file a FTC complaint. This provides important information that can help track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can also refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and companies for further action. Obtain an ID Theft Affidavit by visiting online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or calling 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338). Military Families can also file through Military Sentinel at www.consumer.gov/military.

The Social Security Administration also has information regarding wrongful use of social security numbers. If you suspect someone is using your social improperly, contact the SSA at 800-772-1213.TRADOC Data Security

Although no bank account routing information was included in the theft and it is unclear to what extent the available data has actually been compromised, all DA civilians should closely monitor their personal financial affairs while the relevant authorities attempt to determine the details and impacts of the loss. DA TRADOC civilians can contact the TRADOC Privacy Officer at DSN 680-3434 or 757-788-3434. The above list is in no means exhaustive, but those individuals with further concerns should contact the FTC. Their consumer.gov Web site provides steps on how to check credit reports, how to guard against identity theft, and who to call if an individual believes any fraudulent activity is occurring with his or her personal information.