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Keep Identity Safe
Story Number: NNS031028-04
Release Date: 10/28/2003 12:08:00 PM

By Journalist 3rd Class Rebecca Schall, USS John F. Kennedy Public Affairs

ABOARD USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (NNS) -- "It's one of the fastest growing crimes in America," said Joe Bellinger, special agent to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), who serves aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). "Identity theft is one of the easiest things to fall victim to if you're not careful."

Identity theft happens when one person acquires key pieces of someone else's information such as, name, address and social security number to commit fraud. This information enables thieves to write checks, open credit card accounts and make costly purchases. According to Bellinger, several Sailors have already fallen victim to identity theft, including some aboard JFK.

"Some people don't realize they have fallen victim to identity theft until they try to apply for a loan or line of credit and they are denied," said Bellinger. "The person then looks up his or her credit report and finds charges, usually adding up to thousands of dollars, they never made."

Once fraudulent charges have been made, it's often difficult - but not impossible to repair the damage.

"Sailors should order a credit report from all three bureaus once a year just as a precautionary measure," said Lt. Evan Stanley, Kennedy's legal officer. "Once the fraud is committed, there isn't a lot we can do about it, so Sailors should try their best to prevent it."

Stanley said the first step Sailors should take when they see an unauthorized charge on a statement is file a police report in the city where the charges were made. He also said they should call the bank which finances the card and change the number.

"If someone opened a card under your name, but used his address, you should contact a credit bureau and a notary to prove that the card was not opened by you," said Stanley.

According to Bellinger, Sailors can take several preventative measures to protect themselves and those they love.

"Sailors should try and keep track of all their personal information.

"Whenever you receive e-mails or letters from people requesting your information, don't give it to them," said Bellinger. "You should always destroy any mail that has your personal information on it before throwing it in the garbage."

Bellinger also advises Sailors responsible for handling official records or paperwork with potentially sensitive personal information to be especially vigilant.

"Treat the information like a pile of cash," said Belligner. "Because essentially, that's what it is."

For more information on how to prevent or recover from identity theft, or to report a case of fraud, visit the NCIS web site at www.ncis.navy.mil/idtheft and click on the "special" link.