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Play it safe - information protection

The Air Force privacy program, AFI 33-332, “Air Force Privacy Act Program,” prohibits emailing or transferring any personally identifiable information from .mil and .com networks. With an individual’s personal information, identity thieves can obtain employment, government and health benefits, people’s cash or credit and commit crimes in someone else’s name. Unauthorized disclosure or misuse of personal information may result in criminal and/or civil penalties. Airmen can protect themselves by keeping their PINS and passwords for their accounts, credit and debit cards safe and regularly checking their bank statements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Hada/Released)

The Air Force privacy program, AFI 33-332, “Air Force Privacy Act Program,” prohibits emailing or transferring any personally identifiable information from .mil and .com networks. With an individual’s personal information, identity thieves can obtain employment, government and health benefits, people’s cash or credit and commit crimes in someone else’s name. Unauthorized disclosure or misuse of personal information may result in criminal and/or civil penalties. Airmen can protect themselves by keeping their PINS and passwords for their accounts, credit and debit cards safe and regularly checking their bank statements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Hada/Released)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- A deployed Airman uses his credit card to make a routine purchase and months later his wife notices a suspicious charge on their account. Fortunately, the charge is reversed, but the couple has learned a valuable lesson they will never forget.

Living in the "information age," it can be easy for individuals to become careless in the way they protect their personally identifiable information, but many threats are out there.

Alysa Canfield, spouse of Staff Sgt. Charles Canfield, 28th Communications Squadron client service technician, knows firsthand how vulnerable PII is. She recounted how her husband used his credit card at a deployed location in April 2011, and a little while later she noticed a one-year subscription to an online dating website made from England on their account.

"The charge was still pending so I called the bank, and after verifying my husband's location against where the internet purchase was made, they promptly revoked the charge with no issues," Canfield explained. "We were issued new cards, but this wouldn't have happened if my husband had just paid cash or waited to use his Eagle Cash Card."

Air Force Instruction 33-332, "Air Force Privacy Act Program," provides Airmen with guidelines on collecting and disseminating information.

Senior Airman Andrew Carter, 28th CS information assurance technician, said there a few key things to remember.

"Most of the time when people send PII it's to finish an EPR (enlisted performance report)," Carter explained. "To avoid an incident, remove the person's name, rank, and social security number if you are sending it outside of a `.mil' network. Encrypt the e-mail to protect its contents."

Carter also said information sent within the network must have a subject line that begins with "For Official Use Only," along with a statement explaining it must be protected under the Privacy Act of 1974.

Carter added it is not only vital to protect one's own information, but the penalty for releasing another individual's unprotected information can include a fine of $5,000.

"The reason it is so important to guard this information is because it is who you are," Carter said. "With enough of this information, identity thieves are able to use your information in any way they see fit."

Canfield said she and her husband practice preventive measures in regard to identity theft, adding they pay especially close attention to the reputation of businesses they patronize.

"Just one transaction was all it took to save all of our information from our credit card," Canfield noted. "The situation definitely opened our eyes to protecting our information."

To learn more about information protection regulations, call Master Sgt. Christina Dashner, 28th CS Knowledge Operations section chief, at (605) 385-4190.

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