As Americans, we owe our freedom to the men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our nation. We set aside a day every November to observe Veteran’s Day, originally timed to coincide with Armistice Day marking the end of World War I.
Considering all that veterans have done for us, it’s a shame that anyone would target them for fraud. The U.S. Department of Defense spends part of pre-deployment briefings talking about financial matters, and takes pains to protect members of the military from scammers while overseas.
Unfortunately, after their tours of duty are over, veterans are just as vulnerable to identity theft as the rest of us.
Veteran Don Osborn of California, who's never been a victim of identity theft, does his best to keep it that way, "I am extremely cautious in providing personal information. I run multiple virus programs on my computers. I am very vigilant regarding computer and telephone scams. I am very guarded in my dealing with people I do not know."
The Veterans Administration has launched a campaign to protect veterans and their families called More Than a Number. In an online letter, Stanley F. Lowe, deputy assistant secretary, Information Security, writes, “Every piece of personally identifiable information, whether it’s a Social Security number, date of birth, home address, etc., is more than just a number. It represents a person’s identity, livelihood, and personal or financial well-being.”
The VA has a toll-free number for veterans and their dependents who suspect that their identities may have been compromised: 855-578-5492.
To prevent identity theft in the first place, the VA recommends that everyone take these nine basic steps to avoid the web of deceit woven by criminals:
- Use strong passwords. Create passwords that employ a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Lock up your records. Keep any financial documents and records containing your sensitive information in a secure place in your home or office.
- Shred sensitive documents. Tear, cut up, or shred sensitive materials, such as old records, files, bills, prescription labels, or expired credit cards, with a cross-cutting shredder before disposing of them.
- Secure your wireless network with a password. Unprotected wireless networks can place sensitive information in jeopardy.
- Lock your computer. If you are using a computer at your office or in a public place, make sure to lock it before you walk away to safeguard any personal information stored on the computer.
- Protect against viruses. Regularly update anti-virus protection software on your computer. In addition, keep your computer system and browser up to date and set at the highest security level.
- Double-check mailings and faxes. Always make sure that documents aren’t stuck together and that the recipient’s information is correct before sending any personally identifiable information.
- Keep your emails safe. Avoid sending any sensitive information via email. If you absolutely have to use email to send personal data, consider purchasing encryption software.
- Use social media responsibly. Assume that anything you post online can be accessed by anyone. An identity thief can use the information he or she learns about you on social media sites to answer “challenge” questions and potentially gain access to your personal accounts.