Veteran’s are at high risk for identity theft, and have more to lose. It is important for veteran’s to carefully monitor their credit report, social security benefits and veterans benefit information to determine if their identity is being used in any manner, from illegally obtaining credit or medical care to attending a college.
In August 2006, the Veteran’s Administration contacted approximately 16,000 individuals regarding a theft of computer equipment containing personal, medical, financial, insurance and veteran’s benefits information. In this instance over 2000 deceased veteran’s information was also available. In another instance over 26.5 million social security numbers were stolen when a federal employee’s laptop computer was stolen. How did this information get stolen? Wasn’t it protected by the government somehow?
Apparently it is a common practice for the Veteran’s Administration to contract out certain jobs, such as software support and insurance billing, claims and benefits, in order to provide what they describe as better service to veterans. In this particular case, the contract was awarded to the Unisys Corporation and the project involved support to the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh VA Medical Centers and their community clinics. In this instance an Unisys employee had veteran’s information contained on his laptop computer which he took home. That evening the contractor’s home was broken into and the laptops, as well as other items, were stolen. An investigation was conducted, and resulted in the recover of the laptop computer as no indication that the laptop was stolen in order to gain information for use in identity theft.
In many cases the contracting agency or individuals have access to a great deal of a veteran’s personal and financial information as well as social security number, date of birth, address, medical, insurance, or benefits information. Contractors are bound by regulations that are designed to limit their access and use of this information to only using it to provide the services required. The Veteran’s Administration claims that it works closely with contractors in developing the “highest standards” of protection and security. However, it does not designate what systems are in place to protect a veteran’s information.
Those affected by this invasion of privacy has been provided with information as well as free credit report to monitor their credit information. They have been advised to contact local law enforcement agencies and credit reporting agencies.
In this case, the theft of personal information was apprehended. But what happens when as a result of contracting work out in this fashion someone obtains, sells or uses a veteran’s information for the purpose of identity theft? Veteran’s benefits include more than just information that can be used for identity theft through illegal credit use;, but this information can also be used to obtain student loans, other educational advantages, insurance and medical benefits and care. What can be done?
First, veterans need to be proactive. Take all the normal and necessary steps such as protecting your information at home and on your computer. Limit access to your social security number and date of birth to only when necessary. Purchase anti virus and anti spyware to protect information contained on your computer. Be sure not to conduct personal or financial business at work, as you don’t know who could over hear you or what systems are in place to protect your information. You may want to consider using a “credit freeze” available through many services such as Trusted ID.
If you think your information may be comprised you can do the following: dispute the information on your credit report and ask the three major credit reporting agencies of TransUnion, Experian and Equifax to place a fraud flag on your credit file. This insures that additional steps are taken before new accounts or changes to existing account in your name can occur.
But there are more steps necessary for veterans. Be sure to review your Social Security Benefits statement, at first to become familiar with your benefits and than later to monitor any claims or uses of these benefits. To order a Social Security Benefits report, contact the Social Security Administration office or order online at Request a Social Security Statement. Review your Veteran’s Benefits information when it is provided. Determine if any claims or benefits have been made without your knowledge.
The most important advice to veterans is to be knowledgeable and active about protecting all your information, both your benefits, claims, credit and personal information Do not hesitate to dispute false or incorrect information and be sure to contact the Veteran’s Administration office www.firstgov.gov as well as www.va.gov/opa. Report any instances of identity theft to local law enforcement agencies, your State’s Attorney General’s office and The Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338), or visit their web site at www.ftc.gov.
For additional information on the topics mentioned, visit “Do You have a “Trusted” ID Service?”
“How to Dispute Your Credit Report