What Kind of a Monster Scams an Active Duty Service Member?
When someone claiming to be from the United States Marine Corps called John Stautz and told him that his son had died while on active duty, John was in shock. So much so that John didn’t think twice when the caller asked for his son’s Social Security number (SSN) as identification.
A few phone calls later, the truth came out: John’s son hadn’t been killed in action — but his identity had just been stolen [*].
Active duty service members and their families are prime targets for identity thieves and scammers.
In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported over 17,000 cases of fraud against active duty service members — with losses of over $46 [*].
If you’re currently (or about to be) deployed, setting up an active duty fraud alert is one of the simplest ways to protect your finances and identity — but it’s not your only option.
In this guide, we’ll explain how active duty fraud alerts work, what they can and can’t do to protect you, and some of the other ways that military professionals can safeguard their identities and finances while deployed.
What Is an Active Duty Fraud Alert? Why Do You Need One?
An active duty fraud alert is a free security notice on your credit file alerting potential creditors that you’re currently on active duty in the military.
If someone tries to open a new credit account or take out a loan in your name, lenders will be notified that they should take extra steps to verify your identity. You can add an authorized person’s contact information — such as a phone number — to your account for verification purposes.
These alerts also remove your name from marketing lists, so you won’t receive unsolicited credit and insurance offers while deployed.
Active duty fraud alerts are only available to active service members stationed somewhere other than their home base. Alerts last for one year, unless you remove them beforehand.
According to the FTC, military service members are 76% more likely to become victims of identity theft than the general public [*].
While fraud alerts help, active duty military personnel still face greater risks for any of the following reasons:
- Active duty service members cannot consistently monitor accounts. Being deployed makes it harder to keep regular tabs on your bank accounts and credit files — especially if you’re overseas or have limited time to check on your accounts.
- Members of the military often use communal Wi-Fi. While public Wi-Fi and hotspots always have risks, foreign networks may have even less security.
- Service members may trust government employees more. Scammers pose as government or military representatives to access their victim's personal information. Military personnel tend to trust the system more than most, leading to exploitation.
- Military personnel regularly share their personal information. Since they're used to sharing information with authorities and organizations, military service members may not be as cautious about providing personal details.
- Reliable targets. Many military members have steady paychecks and good credit scores. They also have access to classified and sensitive information, making them prime targets for scammers.
- Data breaches. The U.S. Department of Defense reported 1,891 data breaches of personally identifiable information (PII) in 2021 alone [*].
The bottom line: Members of the military are common targets of fraudsters and cybercriminals. An active duty fraud alert can help protect your credit, but it’s not foolproof.
How To Set Up an Active Duty Fraud Alert
To request an active duty fraud alert, you need to contact one of the three major credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. By law, the bureau you contact must contact the other two and inform them of the fraud alert.
As part of the process, you’ll need to prove your identity and eligibility by providing:
- Government-issued ID (driver’s license, passport, or birth certificate — for an active duty alert, you’ll need your military ID)
- Proof of address (utility bill, phone bill, or bank statement)
- Proof of Social Security number (Social Security card, tax return, W2, or 1099)
Here's how to get in touch with the credit bureaus:
Active Duty Fraud Alert vs. Credit Freeze: Which One Is Better?
Many people use the terms “fraud alert,” “credit freeze,” “security freeze,” and “credit lock” interchangeably — however, they actually differ in the levels of protection they offer.
In many ways, a credit freeze is the better option for active duty service members because it restricts all access to your credit file. Fraud alerts add an extra preventative measure against scams, but cybercriminals can still bypass the security checks.
Here's a quick rundown of the differences between fraud alerts vs. credit freezes:
How To Protect Your Finances (and Identity) While Deployed
- Consider signing up for credit monitoring
- Review your bank statements regularly
- Scan the Dark Web for your leaked personal information
- Don’t disclose sensitive data – especially over shared Wi-Fi
- Use secure passwords, and enable 2FA for all your online accounts
- Learn the warning signs of phishing messages
- Beware of the latest scams targeting military personnel
When you're on active duty, you shouldn't need to think about the safety of your personal information and money. Unfortunately, fraud and theft are harsh realities for service members.
Here are seven ways that you can protect your finances and identity.
1. Consider signing up for credit monitoring
The scary truth is that military personnel are disproportionately affected by identity theft. And unfortunately, neither credit freezes nor fraud alerts can protect your existing accounts from fraud.
While you can order a free copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, you may not have the time to review it while on active duty. Instead, a credit monitoring app can warn you of suspicious activity on your accounts — including your banking, investments, and credit file.
Credit monitoring and identity theft protection providers help secure your personal and financial information, warn you of potential fraud, and offer support and insurance in case you become a victim of identity theft.
With Aura’s award-winning identity theft solution, you get:
- Constant three-bureau credit monitoring with the industry’s fastest fraud alerts. A 2022 mystery shopper survey found that Aura had the most reliable fraud alerts and delivered them up to 250x faster than other services3.
- Award-winning identity theft protection powered by artificial intelligence (AI). AI-powered tools include a Call Assistant to protect users from phone and text message scams, as well as Dark Web monitoring to see if your personal information was leaked in a data breach.
- Transaction monitoring for your bank, credit, and investment accounts. Set transaction thresholds, and receive warnings about suspicious activity.
- Online security tools to proactively protect you from digital crime. Aura provides advanced protection against hackers and scammers, including a military-grade virtual private network (VPN), secure password manager, and antivirus software.
- $1 million identity theft insurance. Every adult member on your Aura plan is covered against eligible losses and fees resulting from identity theft — such as stolen funds, lawyer fees, and more.
- 24/7 U.S.-based customer support. If you need help, Aura’s White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists are available day and night.
2. Review your bank statements regularly
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), credit card and bank fraud are the two most common types of fraud that affect service members and their families [*].
Unless you regularly monitor your accounts, cybercriminals can steal from you and evade detection. Even worse, regardless of the cause, damaged credit can compromise security clearance applications [*].
What to do:
- Review bank and credit card statements. Carefully go through your account transactions each week or month. Examine credit card charges, and look for changes to credit limits and personal information. Question every transaction and anything irregular, unfamiliar, or suspicious.
- Request credit reports. You can get a free credit report from each bureau every week (through the end of December 2023) at AnnualCreditReport.com. Check for unfamiliar accounts and hard inquiries or incorrect personal information.
💡 Related: How To Read a Credit Report (and Dispute Errors) →
3. Scan the Dark Web for your leaked personal information
Due to the nature of their profession, military personnel face greater risks of having their information targeted and leaked by hackers. According to a 2022 Aura survey [*]:
66% of the military's digital crime victims had information leaked in a data breach.
Most stolen personal information ends up on the Dark Web — where cybercriminals can buy, sell, and trade stolen and leaked data to fuel their scams.
While it’s nearly impossible to remove your information from the Dark Web, knowing what’s been compromised can help you secure accounts, change bank account information, and prevent scammers from targeting you.
What to do:
- Use a free Dark Web scanner. Aura’s free Dark Web scanner searches known databases to see if your passwords and credentials have been leaked online.
- Run searches on HaveIBeenPwned. You can track leaks and data breaches on the independent site, HaveIBeenPwned. Type in your email address to learn if and when your data was compromised.
- Sign up for 24/7 Dark Web monitoring. While free scanners only check for leaked passwords or contact information, Dark Web monitoring constantly searches for your most sensitive information — including your SSN, passport number, birth certificate, and more.
4. Don’t disclose sensitive data – especially over shared Wi-Fi
Shared Wi-Fi can present security issues for anyone. When traveling internationally, the security risks compound. In fact, research estimates that 25% of travelers get hacked while abroad [*].
Shared Wi-Fi is the only option for many active service members. They may also need to use shared computers and hotspots. This means any tasks requiring sensitive personal data must be done on computers and networks with potential security vulnerabilities.
Here’s what to do:
- Use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your data and masks your device's IP address — making it very difficult for hackers to decipher anything, even on an unsecured or public network.
- Double-check the Wi-Fi network name. Disable the automatic network connection feature on your device, and manually log in to your network carefully. Hackers may design fake look-alike networks to trick you; so make sure you have correct network details before logging in.
- Use antivirus software. Run an antivirus application while connected to the network in order to block any malware in real-time. Once you disconnect, run a scan and delete any preferred networks from your device's memory.
5. Use secure passwords, and enable 2FA for all your online accounts
Weak passwords give hackers an opportunity to access your online and financial accounts — and everything in them. Military service members often have larger public profiles than other adults with information across government records, news sites, and social media.
How to create secure passwords:
- Use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. Use at least 10 characters, and combine upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Consider longer phrases. Many cybersecurity experts now suggest using passphrases rather than longer passwords [*]. Start with a phrase or song lyric that you'll remember, and then make it more complex by adding numbers and special characters — for example, “$naK3S0naPlAn3!!!”
- Use a password manager. Password managers help you build, remember, and store long and complex passwords. With just a single secure master password, you’ll have access to all of your login credentials when you need them. Aura can even warn you if your passwords have been compromised and need to be updated.
6. Learn the warning signs of phishing messages
Phishing scams use emails and text messages to trick you into clicking on links that prompt you to share your login, banking, or other sensitive information. Phishing messages typically look like they're from organizations you trust.
An Aura survey found that 11% of military personnel had clicked on phishing links [*].
Look for these warning signs:
- Strange or look-alike email addresses. Always check the sender’s email address against the “From” name that shows up in your inbox. If the address is different, comes from a strange or free domain (such as Gmail or Yahoo!), or is designed to look like a legitimate sender, it could be from a scammer.
- The message tries to create a sense of urgency. Phishing scams use urgency and scare tactics to encourage victims to rush and make mistakes. Scams may include a warning, a threat, or a limited-time offer.
- The message contains suspicious links or attachments. Phishing scams typically include a link. These links take victims to unsecure websites or may contain malware. Always hover over links (on desktop computers) to see where they’re taking you before clicking.
💡 Related: How To Prevent and Avoid Phishing (17 Expert Tips) →
7. Beware of the latest scams targeting military personnel
Knowledge about scams that target military personnel can be one of the best defenses for service members and their families.
Scammers leverage the danger and importance of the military profession to exploit service members and their families. Since active duty makes communication difficult at times, these scams are even more effective.
Here are some of the most popular scams targeting military personnel:
- Romance scams. Military romance scams involve scammers targeting or posing as active duty service members. These fraudsters attract victims who support the military and ask for money, gifts, and personal information.
- Military benefits scams. In these scams, fraudsters ask the families of active duty military for money or information. They may claim the service member has lost their health benefits or requires emergency care at a price [*].
- Government imposter scams. Fraudsters pretend to be government officials and contact service members or their families and ask for payments for fees or services.
What To Do If You Become the Victim of Fraud
- Document the damage. Review your online and financial accounts for signs of theft or fraud. Don’t ignore small charges either, as scammers sometimes test stolen financial information before making larger purchases and withdrawals.
- Notify your bank and lenders. Call your bank and credit card companies, and let them know about the fraud. They will walk you through the dispute and recovery process.
- Freeze your credit. Call each credit reporting bureau and request a credit freeze. You may opt for a fraud alert or a credit lock (if applicable).
- Secure your online accounts. Change your passwords to limit any further damage. Create strong, unique passwords for every account and enable 2FA.
- Report the fraud. File an official identity theft report with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov. If you have information about the crime, you should also report it at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and file a police report with your local law enforcement.
The Bottom Line: Fraud Alerts Aren’t Your Only Option
Military service members face an unusually large number of scams because of their profession. Thankfully, there are tools available to protect them, their identities, and their finances.
Ultimately, the choice is yours for the type and level of protection you need. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide:
- Use an active duty fraud alert if: You want to make fraud more difficult for scammers while you’re on active duty.
- Use a credit freeze if: You have become the victim of fraud or suspect you might be a target.
- Sign up for ID theft protection with credit monitoring if: You want more robust protection for your personal information, finances, and credit.
With Aura, you get powerful award-winning protection from a trusted company. Aura’s 24/7 customer support, $1 million insurance policy, and comprehensive suite of proactive tools will help keep you and your family safe — even when you’re far from home.