FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that it has received a number of complaints from service members who reported damage to their credit reports because of identity theft or other misuse of their accounts while they were on active duty.

While the CFPB has received hundreds of these complaints, few consumers reported initiating an Active Duty Alert prior to leaving for active duty.

Here is a guide for how service members can protect themselves from harm by initiating one of the following credit alerts.

WHAT ALERTS ARE AVAILABLE?
• Active Duty Alert.
• Initial Alert.
• Extended Alert.

Each of these alerts notifies users of your credit report of the potential for fraud or identity theft. The lender will have to take reasonable steps to verify the identity of someone who requests new credit in your name before they can approve it. New credit includes opening a new line of credit in your name -- except for an open-end credit plan, such as a credit card -- issuing an additional card on one of your existing credit accounts, or increasing your credit limit. If the lender does not verify the requester's identity, it will not approve the request.

You should be aware that these alerts do not prevent you from adding to the balance on an existing line of credit or credit card within your existing credit limit.

ACTIVE DUTY ALERT

This alert is available to you if you are in the military on active duty and are assigned to service away from your usual duty station. The alert notifies credit reporting companies of your military status, which limits new credit offers while you're away. It works by notifying lenders that you have an alert on your credit file and they must take reasonable steps to verify the requester's identity before approving new credit.

The alert lasts twelve months -- unless you remove it sooner. Your name will be removed for two years from nationwide credit reporting companies' pre- screening lists for credit offers and insurance -- unless you request otherwise.

INITIAL FRAUD ALERT

This alert is available to you if you have a good-faith suspicion that you have been or will be a victim of identity theft or fraud. This alert is a good first step if you're worried that your identity has or will be stolen. You don't have to wait until identity theft happens to initiate this alert. It works by notifying lenders that you have an alert on your credit file and they must take reasonable steps to verify the requester's identity before approving new credit.

This alert lasts 90 days -- unless you remove it sooner. You also have a right to one free consumer report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies, in addition to the free annual report all consumers may request.

EXTENDED FRAUD ALERT

This alert is available to you if you actually have been a victim of identity theft and have filed a qualifying identity theft report with one of the nationwide credit reporting companies. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you may create a qualifying report online, by visiting www.identitytheft.gov. This alert requires lenders to contact you before approving new credit for you. It also gives you the right to request two free credit reports while limiting new credit offers. This alert works by notifying lenders that you have an alert on your credit file, and, if you provided a phone number or other contact method, they must use this information to verify the credit requester's identify -- or verify the requester's identity in person -- before approving new credit.

This alert lasts for seven years -- unless you remove it sooner. You also have a right to two free consumer reports during the first 12 months after adding the alert to your account from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies. This is in addition to the free annual report all consumers are entitled to.

To add an alert, you can call, go online, or write to any one of the three largest nationwide credit reporting companies -- Equifax, TransUnion or Experian. You will be required to verify your identity. Once you place an alert with one nationwide credit reporting company, the alert will be added to your credit report with the other companies. You can remove any of these alerts by using the same method you used to initially add the alert, and it's free to place and remove these alerts. After contacting one company, you don't have to contact the others. You can reach Equifax by calling 800-525--6285, Experian by calling 888-397--3742, and Transunion by calling 800-680-7289.

WHAT IF I WANT MORE PROTECTION?

The above alerts provide notice to lenders about potential fraud activity but do not fully prevent access to your credit file. If you want to completely prohibit the release of your credit file to potential new lenders, you may want a security freeze. The security freeze will stop these lenders from access to your credit file, which would prevent the approval of new credit.

Requirements and small charges for a security freeze vary by state, and you have to take affirmative steps to lift the freeze when you want to use your credit record. More information about credit freezes is available at: www.consumerfinance.gov.

For additional information about credit alerts, visit the CFPB website at www.consumerfinance.gov.

For those who qualify for legal services, you may also seek help by contacting the Fort Rucker Judge Advocate General's Corps Legal Assistance Office by calling 255-3482.