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Earning statements for servicemembers and Defense Department civilians, and paychecks for military retirees will soon lose some key numbers.

Over the next several weeks, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service will drop the first five digits of a person’s social security number from all pay statements and checks to guard against identity theft.

“The changes apply to everyone,” DFAS spokesman Bryan Hubbard said. The proposal “originated internally and will be phased in over the next couple of pay periods,” he said.

Since people affiliated with the military are already accustomed to listing the last four digits of their Social Security number on sign-in sheets and other forms, the absence of the first five may largely go unnoticed.

That can’t be said, however, for individuals involved in identity theft.

“These steps are being taken to increase personal security and privacy,” Hubbard said.

Reports of identity theft have substantially increased in recent years, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which monitors the issue.

Five years ago, the number of complaints to the FTC was roughly 23,400. By 2001, the rate had more than tripled to about 86,200. Last year, based on figures released last month, the number of complaints of identity theft nearly topped 215,000.

The Social Security Administration also has taken the same step of eliminating the first five Social Security numbers on the millions of checks it issues.

“It’s long overdue,” said Paul Hacker, a retiree advocate living near Ramstein Air Base, Germany, who had been pushing for the change.

DFAS’ decision to drop the first five digits, the retired Air Force chief master sergeant said, “should help preclude identity theft in the future.”

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