Those Americans who proudly serve our country deserve respect and administration, not fraud. But the sad truth is that many veterans are the victims of credit file and information theft for the purpose of fraud and identity theft.
Unfortunately, veteran identity theft is becoming a major problem. Data breaches, rampant malware, and ransomware have changed the landscape of cybersecurity, and it’s hard for most people to keep up to stay safe.
According to a 2018 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report, roughly 15% of the complaints to their department involved American veterans who were the victims of identity theft or fraud while overseas or deployed in other regions.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone steals personal information like your social security number (SSN), date of birth, credit card details, driver’s license, or other things to open accounts in your name, steal your money, or commit other types of fraud. A total stranger often perpetrates identity theft, but sometimes it’s someone you already know.
The consequences of identity theft are numerous, including finding out you have a mountain of debt you never charged. Identity thieves often commit crimes and hand over a fake driver’s license with your name on it. Now you have criminal charges that you are not responsible for. Identity theft can ruin your credit and make it impossible for you to get financing.
Some of the items targeted by scammers are:
- Credit cards.
- Tax returns.
- Medical records and health care information.
- Social media accounts.
- Social security benefits.
- Other military and government benefits.
- Other financial information.
Why are Military Members More Vulnerable to Identity Theft?
One of the biggest reasons military veterans are vulnerable to identity theft is that their military ID is tied in with their social security number. They are used to handing over their ID number regularly to access military benefits and resources. If a hacker got their hands on a military ID list, they could easily have hundreds or thousands of names and social security numbers to use for fraud.
Even though the government has enacted new rules to move away from this old system (that began in 1960), there are 1.2 million active-duty military personnel, along with 21 million veterans and their family members, who are still using the old system.
Some of the other reasons that military vets are often the victim of identity theft and fraud are:
- They have a steady income from the federal government.
- Many members of the military are young and inexperienced with finances and may not be aware of scams and identity theft tactics.
- Thousands of active-duty military members are overseas and must try to manage their accounts from other countries, accessing unsecured Wi-Fi and using methods that put them at risk.
- They may also be too busy to keep a close eye on their accounts.
- Most use mobile technology, which can be insecure.
- Some may allow friends or family to watch their bank accounts while deployed.
- Most military personnel have to use shared computers which can be a recipe for disaster. Not everyone visits safe sites; the computer could be compromised with malware that copies information, etc.
- The military offers its members special perks, and these types of offers can be duplicated with fake ads that veterans and active members jump at, ensnaring them in a web of fraud.
Some Common Veteran Identity Theft Scams
When military personnel are deployed, they don’t often have time to worry about what is going on back home. If they receive notices about a foreclosure on their home or an unpaid mortgage, they may panic and click a fraudulent link thinking they are fixing the problem when really the issues are just starting.
Scammers use scare tactics and social engineering (sending emails that look legitimate but are really fake) to trick unsuspecting service members.
If someone belongs to the Department of Veterans Affairs or other veteran service organizations, they may be on a list to receive notifications. This is another way cyber criminals can contact them and elicit information or get them to click a link, install malware and steal personal information.
Identity Theft Protection for Veteran
The best way to stay safe from veteran scams is to sign up for credit monitoring to protect all your accounts while you are deployed on active duty.
Other tips include:
- Change all your passwords and PINs frequently. So many credentials have been stolen in data breaches; hackers may already have some of yours.
- Keep a close eye on all your bank accounts, credit cards, and logins. If you trust someone in your family to do it while you are away, provide them with access.
- Never use a mobile device or shared computer to access financial accounts unless you are using a VPN.
- Keep antivirus software on all your devices.
- Contact all three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian) and put an “active duty” notice on your credit file so no one can open new accounts in your name while you are overseas.
- If you receive any military discounts or offers, thoroughly research each one and verify it came from the government.
- Never give out your personal information (social security number, mother’s maiden name, birth date) to anyone you don’t know.
- Always log out completely from financial accounts when you are done accessing them.
- Get a copy of your credit report regularly and search for any suspicious activity.
- Shred personal documents with sensitive personal information on them.
- Never click a link in email or text when it is unsolicited.
- Turn on two-factor authentication for all your accounts.
- Use encryption whenever possible.
- Craft super long, strong passwords for all your accounts.
- Keep your social security card locked up at home along with other personal data.
- Get a free credit report copy each year.
- Educate yourself about information security techniques.
- Check out the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) for tips to stay safe.
If You are a Victim of Veteran Identity Theft, Here's What to Do
If you have become a victim, contact the FTC to report it. Contact all your financial institutions and federal agencies to report the fraud and change your cards. Contact the credit bureaus and put a fraud alert on your file. Be sure also to tell your commanding officer about the fraud. Contact local law enforcement to report it as well. Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs help line. You may consider a call to the state inspector general as well.