Veterans and Identity TheftUpdated: November 4, 2022
What do the authorities tell veterans to do if they are victims of identity theft?
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials urge consumers to begin personal damage control and report the problem.
When you report scams and identity theft issues to the FTC, authorities learn more about how veterans and other consumers experience fraud.
Knowing that is important from a prevention and enforcement perspective.
However, what should veterans do besides reporting the incident? How you respond to identity theft is very important in the earliest stages of recovering from it.
Veterans Affected by Identity Theft
In 2020, the FTC reported in November 161,000 cases of fraud were reported by veterans and nearly 14,000 by active-duty service members during the past four years.
About 15% reported a financial loss from the fraudulent activity, with a median loss of $755 for veterans and more than $500 for active-duty service members.
FTC statistics show active-duty service members are three times as likely to report a debit card or other digital means were used to take money from their bank account, according to five years of data reported on IdentityTheft.gov.
Types of Fraud Veterans, Military Family Members and Currently Serving Military Members Face
There are many pro-consumer government websites, including the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and state agencies such as State Trade Commissions.
What Kinds of Fraud Do Military People and Their Families Face?
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are many types of fraud that military personnel and their families face:
- Credit cards
- Tax returns
- Medical records
- Government benefits
- Social media accounts
What kinds of accounts can be affected? Everything from savings accounts to Social Security numbers—all your private data—can potentially be used by someone else, and no one is safe from security breaches.
Just ask any of the three major credit reporting agencies. Equifax and Experian were both hacked, and millions were affected. Equifax’s September 2017 hack alone compromised the personal information of 147 million people, and the credit reporting bureau agreed to a January 2020 settlement with the FTC, including up to $425 million to help those impacted by the breach.
Not All Fraud Is Easy to Spot
You may be well aware of email and social media scams used to trick you into giving away passwords, personal information and money. But scammers count on this, adjusting their approaches to appear different than the usual rip-offs or phishing attempts.
VA home loans borrowers and non-VA borrowers alike can become victims of foreclosure fraud, which relies on fear and misinformation to trick you into a bogus foreclosure prevention scheme. They may offer to refinance your home or negotiate the terms of your mortgage with your lender (and may even suggest you send your payments to them). You may be asked for money upfront for services, including mortgage payments.
Here’s one thing to remember: You must always have your lender’s approval for loan-modification programs.
If you are not currently working with your lender on avoiding foreclosure, hang up or stop emailing and contact your loan officer immediately. Your bank and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can help you. Do not accept third-party offers, especially those who reach out to you instead of you contacting them, without discussing details directly with your lender.
If you’re having trouble making mortgage payments, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing counselor can walk you through your options at no cost.
Scammers may contact you pretending to be part of a veterans’ service organization, veteran-focused charity or support group or even as part of the military. Caller ID and emails can be spoofed and forged, and contacts on social media can be manipulated and hacked.
Impostor scams involve harvesting money and data by pretending to be someone you know or trust.
One popular Facebook scam involves scammers hacking Facebook accounts to send “I am in jail in a foreign country and need bail money” messages. The identity theft, in this case, is used to trick people into thinking one of their social media connections is in a desperate situation.
The key to avoiding impostor scams is to refuse to respond to third parties initiating contact.
Wire Transfer Fraud
True story: this article’s author, Joe Wallace, was contacted by a third party, unsolicited, who wanted graphic design help for a sales catalog.
When it came time to make the initial payment, the party refused to use common payment gateways such as Paypal and Square, claiming “they don’t work for me.” Instead they wanted to mail a check to him(which happened) and have him wire transfer some money back to them after he deposited it. Why? That was because the check amount was more than the agreed-upon fee.
The scam was that the check would bounce, but not before an honest individual sent back the excess amount.
There is often a sad story attached; in this case, the scammer was “in the hospital” and couldn’t do things the usual way. Don’t believe those sad stories.
In this case, the scam did not occur because the trick was known to the intended victim. The scammer got reported and shut down—this time.
What The Government Tells Veterans to Do About Identity Theft
If you suspect you are the target of identity theft, the first step is to change all your passwords, logins and PIN numbers, and deactivate compromised credit or debit cards, etc. It’s best to assume you have been fully compromised and all your passwords and PIN numbers are known to third parties.
Report Identity Theft To The Government
What will you need to do once you have discovered identity theft has affected you? Report the problem at the U.S. Government website set up by the Department of Justice, IdentityTheft.gov.
When reporting, consumers are advised to think of a recovery plan to discuss with an agent from IdentityTheft.gov. The plan is key to moving forward with police reports, credit reporting agency reports, credit card servicers, etc.
The following should be part of your plan:
- Contact credit card agencies to change passwords, PINS, etc.
- File a complaint with state and/or federal law enforcement.
- Open an investigation at all three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), and be prepared to file required police reports.
- Contact your bank, credit union, lenders, creditors, etc., to do damage control, explore options, freeze accounts and/or take other necessary actions.
- Start credit monitoring services, which may or may not be offered to you free of charge, depending on the nature of the problem. Don’t assume you are not entitled to free assistance. Always ask.
The Department of Veterans Affairs program, More Than a Number, is an identity-theft protection program that informs and educates veterans and their beneficiaries. Call 1-855-578-5492 to learn more.
The VA advises credit monitoring for veterans and their families who experience identity theft involving VA information.
According to the VA, the options in such cases include free credit monitoring for those “whose data is considered at risk after internal review.” This resource is specifically for those with compromised VA data.