When you get orders to deploy overseas, or when you get a permanent change of station orders (PCS) to an overseas base, there are many things you should be concerned with to protect your credit.
Some are related to identity theft, others are associated with corporate customer service policies, and still, others involve fixing problems that result in late or missed payments for auto deductions and similar types of account management.
The Fog Of War Extends To Deployment Prep
Getting your personal finances in order before shipping out is crucial. Deployments keep troops very busy in the forward location and your ability to access online payment gateways and other resources may be limited depending on mission requirements. The more organized you are before you get into the deployment line, the better.
In the lead-in time to a PCS or deployment, you’ll have so many extra requirements on your time that issues not directly related to getting deployment or PCS-ready may get sidelined until later. Don’t let this happen to you.
What Can Go Wrong With Your Credit?
Deployed overseas or PCSing to an OCONUS base means using personal and government credit cards more than usual, there is elevated potential for theft or loss of credit cards and personal information, and related problems. What are the basic issues you may face with credit in these circumstances?
- Identity Theft
- Loss of ID, credit cards, and other vital resources in a foreign country
- Late payments due to conflicting time zone issues
- Missed payments due to lost mail
- Late or missed payments due to technical problems with automatic payment gateways
- Changes in credit card terms the user overlooks due to deployment issues
Servicemembers are more vulnerable to identity theft when PCSing or deploying. One reason for this is that troops leave old addresses behind (which can be taken advantage of by scammers) and have to establish new ones overseas.
Add to this the elevated risk of using ATMs and card readers that may be off the beaten path (and potentially compromised) and you have plenty of added credit risks for traveling service members.
What can go wrong with your credit by using an ATM overseas? The same things that can go wrong stateside–ATMs that have been compromised by card skimmer technology, card readers that are spied upon by scammers with telescopes or binoculars from across the street (and well out of sight), and related issues.
No matter where you are, USA or otherwise, these threats exist and can damage your credit.
Losing Your Wallet Or Purse Overseas
The Western Union official site has advice to travelers about what to do if you lose your wallet overseas. That advice includes canceling all credit and debit cards as soon as possible, filing a police report, and visiting the nearest U.S. embassy.
For tourists, this process can be very difficult because filing police reports may involve navigating cultural and/or language barriers and can be time-consuming.
But military people have some extra help from their military community; the clock is not ticking on a deployed service member or someone who has PCSed overseas in the same way as for tourists. Sometimes that can be good, sometimes that can work against you, depending on circumstances.
If you are stationed in the area where you had your purse or wallet lost or stolen you won’t need to bother with an embassy visit.
You may be able to get some advice on how to navigate filing a police report in your host nation by contacting the base legal office, Judge Advocate General (JAG), or family support center.
But it is very important to take the advice of Western Union and cancel your cards as quickly as possible, file any required police reports for insurance purposes, and begin reestablishing yourself with new ID cards, etc.
Canceling your cards may not fully protect you from ID theft or credit card fraud–if the thief manages to use those cards once before they are shut down, you may need to dispute a list of charges to protect your credit rating. Don’t delay!
Late Payments And Missed Payments Due To Time Zone Problems
Those who are sent overseas can encounter difficulties with late payments due to time zone issues, or even delayed snail mail if you are mailing payments back home from the overseas location.
It’s best to arrange as many auto-deduction type payments for your financial obligations as possible when deploying or relocating to an overseas base.
No matter if you are PCSing to Japan, Germany, or anywhere else in the world, if you have to deal with making manual payments instead of automatic ones, the potential for late and missed due dates is elevated.
Late Or Missed Payments Due To Technical Problems With Automatic Payment Gateways
Even when people take the advice above regarding automatic payments instead of physically transferring or mailing payment yourself, things can go wrong. If your auto-deductions fail to work in a given month for some reason, you could find yourself racking up interest and late payment fees without knowing it.
Tracking your payments and making sure they have actually gone through may sound just as time-consuming as sitting down and writing out checks and physically mailing them; when you are overseas, the extra time invested may be crucial even if it’s just in the transition period.
As with many things related to credit, failing to check on your data and transactions is common and that is what scammers and thieves count on when trying to part you from your money.
Changes In Credit Card Terms
A lack of attention to your credit and bank accounts cannot be helped at certain parts of your PCS or deployment journey. There are simply too many details to keep track of all at once. But this puts you in a vulnerable position, even with your most trusted creditors. Why?
Imagine this true-life scenario of a service member who had a credit card account with a famous, big-name financial institution that caters to veterans.
The service member set up an auto-payment on the credit card they had with this company and treated this auto-pay arrangement as a “fire-and-forget” payment. He didn’t bother looking at this setup again for a very long time.
When he did, he discovered that somewhere along the way, the financial institution decided to change the due date for the credit card payment, and the auto-deduct was no longer paying on time. Many late fees had been racked up due to the oversight (on the borrower’s part).
It’s the sort of thing that could happen to anyone, and it’s money definitely not well spent in terms of the late fees incurred by a lack of attention to the account.
Late and missed payments are said to be among the top causes for lower credit scores, so you can see why this particular issue is important beyond the short-term cash expense of paying those late fees.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.
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