WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 15, 2008) -- Identity theft is an issue facing all Americans and Soldiers are not exempt.

Anyone who has worn an Army uniform in the past 40 years knows social security numbers have served as the basis for personnel and medical administration. In an era of computer file-sharing technologies, Internet access and credit cards, this puts the Soldier at risk of fraud.

A prime target is the deployed Soldier who will likely not view his credit report for a year or more, said Lt. Col. Richard McNorton, public affairs officer with Army Human Resources Command.

Soldiers, civilians and contractors should be aware of the dangers of identity theft and how to protect themselves from unauthorized release of personally identifiable information, he said.

"We are well aware of the many years the Army relied on the social security number on all administrative and medical records," said Col. Jon Dahms, chief of Planning Support for Army Public Affairs. "I personally have old award orders and documents from 24 years of service that have my social and other folks' numbers on there too. This is the main reason we need to protect ourselves, because it may be hard to track the source of a release of this personally identifiable information."

But these older documents are only part of the story. In the digital age, there are all kinds of security risks and scams out there. Listed below are a few:

Aca,!Ac Phishing - attempting to acquire sensitive information such as credit card information under the pretense of a trustworthy entity

Aca,!Ac Pharming -attempting to redirect website traffic to another website, while pretending to be a reputable financial institution or business.

Aca,!Ac Misuse of P2P -file sharing software intended for music sharing; may unknowingly allow others to copy private files - even giving access to entire folders and subfolders

Aca,!Ac Change of Address - diverting your billing statements to another location by completing a "change of address" form

Aca,!Ac Old-fashioned Theft - stealing wallets, purses, mail - to include pre-approved credit offers.

The Federal Trade Commission advises Soldiers to inspect their credit report and review financial statements regularly to look for any fraudulent charges. FTC experts say be alert to signs such as bills not arriving as expected, denials of credit for no apparent reason, or calls or letters about purchases never made.

Experts say there are several precautions everyone can take to deter identity theft:

Aca,!Ac Shred documents with personally identifiable information before discarding them. This includes any financial documents.

Aca,!Ac Don't provide social security number or other personal information over the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet

Aca,!Ac Keep your military ID with you or locked up at all times

Aca,!Ac Never lend your credit cards or account information to anyone

Aca,!Ac Do not click on links sent in unsolicited emails. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer. Keep the software up to date.

Aca,!Ac Don't use obvious passwords like the last four digits of your Social Security number or your birthday.

Aca,!Ac Don't let unattended mail pile up.

"Attempts to steal identities can look unusually legitimate, and include standard forms. Earlier this year, a 'phishing' e-mail was targeted at the Families of the fallen Soldiers. The e-mail contained actual Army Web links and claim forms. The Causality and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center acted swiftly and protected these Families from the scam," McNorton said.

The Department of Defense has made changes to protect its Soldiers, civilians and contract workforce. In 2004, the Defense Finance Accounting Service began dropping the first five digits of social security numbers to protect DoD employees.

The Army is taking steps to move away from the use of social security numbers on documents. With the implementation of Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System, every Soldier will be issued an employee ID number.

There are ways Soldiers can protect themselves and avoid identity theft. For example, Soldiers can set up an "active duty alert" on their credit report when away from their usual duty station. The alert will help minimize the risk of identity theft while deployed. When a business sees the alert on a credit report, it must verify the identity of the Soldier before issuing credit. Active-duty alerts stay on the credit report for one year, unless a request is made to remove the alert sooner.

"The 'active duty alert' is one of the best ways Soldiers can protect themselves from identity theft during deployment periods," McNorton said.

For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Web site at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.