What does the government tell veterans to do if they are the victims of identity theft? The Federal Trade Commission says the very first thing to consider aside from personal damage control is reporting the problem.
The FTC official site reminds consumers that when you report scams and identity theft issues to the FTC, the government learns more about how veterans and other consumers “experience fraud.”
Knowing that is very important from a prevention and enforcement perspective, but what does the government tell veterans to do aside from 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
A 2019 post on the Federal Trade Commission official site states that well over 160,000 cases of fraud have been reported by veterans and nearly 13,000 reports from active duty servicemembers. Between 12 and 14 percent of those affected reported a financial loss from the fraudulent activity on their behalf.
FTC statistics reveal that veterans suffer greater financial losses than civilians and even active duty military in this area. According to the FTC, the median loss for veterans? 23% higher.
Types Of Fraud Veterans, Military Family Members, and Currently Serving Military Members Face
There are many pro-consumer government websites including the FTC (see above), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and state-level agencies such as State Trade Commissions.
What kinds of fraud do military people and their families face? According to the United States Department of Justice, there are many categories. Fraudsters can strike in any number of areas–all of the following can be compromised:
- Credit cards
- Tax returns
- Medical records
- Government benefits
- Social media accounts
What kinds of accounts can be affected? Everything from your savings account to your Social Security Number. All of your private data can potentially be used by someone else, and nobody is safe from security breaches. Just ask any of the three major credit reporting agencies. Equifax and Experian were both hacked. Both cases affected millions; the Experian hack alone compromised some 15 million consumers according to BankInfoSecurity.com.
Not All Fraud Is Easy To Spot
You may be hyper-aware of e-mail and social media scams used to trick you into giving away passwords, personal information, or even money. But scammers count on this; they change their games to appear different than the usual ripoffs or phishing attempts to escape such awareness.
Many of the things listed below are revamped, revised, and re-created by theives; beware any iterations or slightly different versions of the following old established con games and identity theft tactics.
VA and non-VA borrowers alike can become victims of this type of fraud which relies on fear and misinformation to trick you into a bogus foreclosure prevention scheme. You may be asked for money up front for services to be rendered including mortgage payments.
But here’s the thing to remember; you must ALWAYS have the cooperation of your lender for loan modification programs.
If you are not talking to your lender about foreclosure avoidance, hang up or stop emailing and contact your loan officer immediately. Your bank and the 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 them directly with your lender.
Many scams may ask for money upfront and claim to guarantee that you can get your mortgage terms changed. If you’re having trouble making mortgage payments, a HUD-approved housing counselor can walk you through your options for free.
Scammers may contact you while they pretend to be part of a Veteran Service Organization, veteran-focused charity or support group, or even as part of the military chain of command. Caller ID can be spoofed and forged, emails likewise, 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 involved hackers who obtained someone’s Facebook password for the purpose of sending “I am in jail in a foreign country and need bail money” messages. The identity theft in this case is used to trick you into thinking one of your real-life social media connections is in a desperate situation.
The key to avoiding many impostor scams is to refuse to respond to third parties who initiate contact with you instead of the other way around.
Wire Transfer Fraud
True story: the author of this article was contacted by a third party (unsolicited) who wanted graphic design help for a sales catalog.
But when it came time to make the initial payment, the fraudster refused to use common payment gateways like Paypal and Square, claiming “they don’t work for me.” Instead the scammer wanted to mail a check (which actually happened), deposit it, and have a wire transfer sent back to them. Why?
Because the amount of the check was far more than the agreed-upon fee. The scam is that the check will bounce, but not before an honest freelancer had tried to deposit the money and mail the excess. 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
The first step is to change all your passwords, logins, PIN numbers, deactivate compromised credit or debit cards, etc. If you suspect you are the target of identity theft, it’s best to assume that you have been fully compromised and that 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 via this website, consumers are advised to be thinking of a recovery plan that you can discuss with an agent from IdentityTheft.gov. This recovery plan is key to moving forward with your police reports, credit reporting agency reports, credit card servicers, etc.
A list of tasks you’ll need to accomplish to recover will include:
- Contacting credit card agencies to change passwords, PINS, etc.
- Filing a complaint with state and/or federal law enforcement (see below)
- Opening an investigation at all three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) and be prepared to file any police reports required as part of this process
- Contact your bank, lenders, creditors, etc. to do damage control, explore options, freeze accounts, or other actions as appropriate
- 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 in this area. Always ask what you are entitled to receive for free.
The Department of Veterans Affairs program called More Than a Number is described as an identity protection program offering “information to educate Veterans and their beneficiaries on how to protect themselves from identity theft.” Call 1-855-578-5492 to learn more.
The Department of Veterans Affairs advises veterans and their families credit monitoring for those who have experienced an identity theft situation, “involving VA information.”
According to the VA official site, VA 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 VA data that has been compromised rather than as a one-stop service for ANY identity theft issue.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News