In advance of Veterans Day, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today urged the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to take action to ensure that servicemembers have the tools they need to protect their finances and credit reports from harm during deployment. More than 2,000 Ohioans are currently deployed, according to DOD.
During deployment, men and women in the armed forces face a host of challenges that can result in significant damage to their credit rating, including difficulty managing accounts from abroad and identity theft. In many cases, military families are not aware of the protections that are available to safeguard their credit during and after deployment, such as Active Duty Alerts and security freezes.
“Our men and women in uniform make enough sacrifices for our country — their credit rating shouldn’t be one of them,” said Brown, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. “As a grateful nation, we owe it to our military men and women, and their families, to help ease their transition when they come home. They shouldn’t have to battle creditors because they were serving our country abroad.”
Since July 2011, servicemembers have filed approximately 30,000 complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) about consumer finance issues. Credit reporting was one of the top-three issues for servicemembers, with more complaints about credit reports than credit cards or bank accounts. The CFPB recently reported that since October 2012, more than 650 active-duty servicemembers have submitted complaints to the CFPB about their credit reports; yet less than one percent of those servicemembers reported placing an Active Duty Alert on their credit reports before leaving for a deployment.
“Active Duty Alerts and security freezes offer servicemembers an important first line of defense against fraud and identity theft,” said Tom Feltner, director of financial services at the Consumer Federation of America. “We support expanded efforts to ensure that servicemembers have every tool available to prevent financial abuse while they are focused on the mission at hand.”
Last week, Brown helped lead a letter from 19 Senators to the Secretary of Defense outlining their concerns over reports that deployed servicemembers face significant financial vulnerabilities, including identity theft and fraud. The Senators urged the Department to ensure that servicemembers are aware that they can place a security freeze on their credit during deployment. The Senators also called on the agency to have some procedures in place to answer questions for servicemembers who may be the victim of fraud, identity theft, or an error on their credit report while they are deployed.
Brown has been a leader in Congress on credit reporting issues. He is a cosponsor of the Military Families Credit Reporting Act, which would provide servicemembers the opportunity to notify credit reporting agencies of a military deployment and explain on their credit reports that late or missed payments were due to their deployments.
In October, Brown demanded answers from Experian, the world’s largest credit monitoring firm, on actions the company is taking to address the recent security breach that exposed sensitive personal data of about 15 million T-Mobile customers. And in July, Brown introduced the Consumer Reporting Fairness Act to require banks and debt buyers to notify credit reporting agencies when a consumer’s debt has been extinguished through bankruptcy.
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