Your military life makes you a prime target for financial fraud and scams. Deployments, frequent relocations, and the unique demands of a military lifestyle, make you and your family appealing to con artists and fraudsters. We'll highlight resources to better protect you against scam artists.
If it's too good to be true?
Before you commit to purchasing a service or large item, (especially real estate, a car or truck, or a financial product) check with your base community service office. Most can provide insight into known offenders or dubious practices in the area. Similarly, the base legal assistance office can help review contracts.
It's also a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB has a military specific organization called Military Line that provides information and resources specifically for the military community. You can find advice on types of products to avoid and known scams through their website at http://www.bbb.org.
Watch your paper trail
Servicemembers are frequent victims of identity theft since their personal information is readily available through various databases and appears on many forms of paperwork. According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, of the more than 100 million personal records lost or stolen in 2006 alone, nearly one third were for active and retired military personnel whose data was stored at a Veteran Affairs office.
To prevent or catch identity theft issues such as stolen credit cards or personal identification numbers, servicemembers should closely monitor their credit report and status. At http://www.annualcreditreport.com, you're entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus per year. That means that with careful planning, you can check your report for any unauthorized activity three times a year. You can also check your credit score (for free) to watch for unexpected drops in value.
Additionally, the credit bureaus offer military personnel a free active-duty alert on their credit report. This means that the credit bureau must make an extra effort to validate the identity of anyone applying for credit. This is a smart way to create an extra layer of security around your credit.
Don't go broke working with a broker
If you want to work with a broker or insurance agent for a specialized financial product, you can verify the credentials and review the disciplinary history of that individual before you sign any paperwork. For brokers, you can document their licensing status and see if any disciplinary action has ever been taken against them by using the BrokerCheck tool at FINRA's website. For insurance agents, check with your state's insurance department before buying coverage. You can find your state's department along with advice for military personnel researching insurance at http://www.naic.org.
In most cases, when you don't have ready access to these tools, trust your instinct. If something seems wrong or rushed, take your time and carefully research what is happening. By being prepared and understanding the threat, it is easier to avoid the consequences of one of these scams.
For more information and tips on protecting your finances, visit Military.com's Banking and Savings channel.