Details are still murky about the recent theft of federal government data and how it affects those in the military community.
Thousands of military spouses are federal employees, as well as National Guard and reserve members with civilian jobs in the federal government. Some active-duty troops who previously worked as federal civilian employees also may be affected.
But more information has emerged to indicate that hundreds of thousands of troops are potentially affected. The Office of Personnel Management said some of the hacked systems contain information about background investigations.
If this personal information was compromised, thieves might make fraudulent charges on your accounts, or steal your identity for nefarious purposes, such as opening new credit cards, filing fake tax returns and getting mortgages in your name, all without your knowledge. Identity theft is a lifelong problem, said Gary McAlum, chief security officer for USAA.
You can take steps to lessen the risk. If OPM notifies you that your personal information may have been compromised, start a file for all related documentation, starting with the notification letter from OPM. Use that information to file an affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission. If you see an indication that you've been the victim of identity theft, the affidavit will be the basis for your report, McAlum said.
He suggests contacting each of the credit reporting bureaus to ask for an extended fraud alert, which is good for seven years and will put much tighter restrictions on your report to make it difficult for people to get credit in your name.
The OPM letter will notify you about credit monitoring services and identity theft insurance to mitigate the risk of fraud and identity theft. Take advantage of those services. Also visit consumer.ftc.gov for information about protecting yourself from identity theft, and what to do if you suspect you are a victim.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.