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Protecting yourself by protecting your identity

By Lance Cpl. M. Daniel Sanchez | | August 7, 2007

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People spend their entire life establishing an identity for themselves. They work hard, pay their bills on time and save money for retirement. This is no different from service members who are working to secure their future, but what happens when their life is stolen?

What happens when these service members, the people who fight for this very country, have their lives compromised by a criminal who has gotten a hold of ‘Pvt. Smucka Tellee’s’ credit card and managed to rack up a mountain of debt?

I do not write this to create a spirit of fear among our Marines, sailors and soldiers here, but to create an atmosphere of awareness.

It is enough that our service members are going overseas and risking their lives fighting for freedom. They should not have to return here and fight again to get their own identities back.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics, identity theft is now passing up drug trafficking as the number one crime in the nation.

If this is not an indicator of the importance of identity-protection awareness, I do not know what is.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, “identity theft is sub-divided into four categories: financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, cloning and business/commercial identity theft.”

Financial theft involves using another's name and social security number to obtain goods and services, while criminal ID theft is posing as another person when apprehended for a crime. Cloning is using another's information to assume his or her identity in daily life and business theft is using another's business name to obtain credit.

According to another a study by Gartner Incorporated, an information technology research and advisory company, in 2006 about 29 people per minute become a victim of identity crime.

This is no joke, and unfortunately, I have had to deal with it.

Before I joined the Marine Corps, I lived with my grandmother. She was always a loving and caring person who would go out of her way to serve others.

Well, one day, she found out she had become the victim of identity theft and it left her completely distraught.

"I didn’t even know (it happened) until the company sent me a letter thanking me for telling them that I moved to California,” she said. “I cried because I thought that I was going to have to pay back all that money.”

My grandmother was referring to the more than $12,000 that had been charged through illegally obtained credit cards.

One person, who moved to California, charged $10,000 on various home appliances and even an apartment. Another individual, in our own city, racked up more than $2,500 in debt.

Luckily, she had reported what happened immediately and the banks told her she didn’t have to pay anything.

Another instance closer to home for Marines is the case of Cpl. Jacob Dissmore, who is a part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Marine Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

According to an article written in the June 15 publication of USA Today, Dissmore, who is a native of Janesville, Wis., “returned from Iraq in February 2006 and learned that someone in San Diego had opened credit card accounts, started a T-shirt business and even bought a house using his data.”

Dissmore was eventually able to clear up the situation after about a year, through the help of an identity theft protection agency.

“Your identity is your lifeline to obtaining credit, keeping good credit, getting employment opportunities, and even a place to live,” said Margy Pracchia, station personal financial manager.

“There are many individuals who want to use your identity so they can have what they want, without the financial responsibility,” she said.

That is a rather disturbing thought, someone using my name and the credit that I have worked hard to establish to buy a lot of expensive items and let me take the burden of responsibility.

The reality is, of the more than 100 million personal records reported lost or stolen in 2006, about 30 million are from active-duty and retired military personnel, according to a USA Today analysis of data compiled by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

We have a responsibility to make sure we are keeping our information secure and are taking the necessary steps to keep our identity our own.

Even Congress is taking measures to help our service members.

Recently a bill was proposed that would look into the feasibility of getting rid of social security numbers on military IDs and replace them with government identification numbers.

Identity security is a growing concern throughout the nation and it affects us all.

Even more shocking than the crime itself, is that these financial crimes are most often perpetrated by someone close to us.

Gunnery Sgt. David Metelski, chief investigator for the station Criminal Investigation Division, told me many of the cases he’s dealt with, involve individuals giving away personal information or leaving it unsecured.

In one case, a Marine gave another Marine his ATM card personal identification number to pay for some pizzas, said Metelski. The coworker kept the information and used it to make purchases in Las Vegas.

In another case, a Marine had his check book stolen from his vehicle by an acquaintance while they were riding together. The victim knew it was missing but did not report anything until several unauthorized purchases were made while he was deployed to Iraq.

Marines need to keep their financial items secured at all times, said Metelski. They need to ensure they are not leaving checkbooks, credit cards or even identification cards out.

The truth is, it is each one of our responsibilities’ to ensure our identities are safe.

Metelski said a few practical steps we could take would be to check our credit reports at least once a year.

If people feel they are going to be a target of financial crime they can also call the credit report companies and have them place alerts on their files.

We should also stay on top of our banking habits, checking at least once a week what is coming out of our accounts and report anything suspicious immediately.

The longer it takes for Marines to report what happened, the longer it could take to receive restitution, said Metelski.

In this age of internet living and credit card offers galore, we must take heed to protect our identities.

I love this country and serving it, but the last I want to do, is have to fight a battle to prove who I am.


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