Last Updated on March 27, 2023 by Luke Feldbrugge
The first step to homeownership, whether you are a civilian or a member of the military, should start with a credit check. According to the Federal Trade Commission, misreported information and fraud are two major reasons why your credit may be taking a hit, and veterans are especially vulnerable to identity theft.
That’s why the FTC marked 2023’s Identity Theft Awareness Week with a series of free, online events focused on trending issues in identity theft, including how to reduce your risk of identity theft and recover if it occurs.
Instances of Veteran Fraud
The FTC recorded more than 41,000 veteran fraud and identity theft incidents in 2020. Five years of identity theft data reported to the FTC on IdentityTheft.gov show that active-duty service members are 76% more likely than other adults to report that an identity thief misused an existing account, such as a bank account or credit card.
What’s more, active duty service members are nearly three times as likely to report that someone used a debit card or some other electronic means to take money directly from their bank account. This finding suggests that service members are experiencing highly disproportionate instances of theft from their financial accounts compared to the general population. They also are 22% more likely to report that their stolen information was misused to open a new account, especially new credit card accounts.
Why are veterans such prime targets for fraud?
One reason may be that certain data breaches mean Veteran data has been available for purchase on the dark web. Security research firm Comparitech counted at least 443 data breaches among government agencies and military branches between 2014 and 2018. The military’s version of the Equifax breach happened in 2015 when a hack of the Office of Personnel Management exposed the social security numbers and security clearance information of 21.5 million individuals–including active duty and former military personnel. Hackers also stole 5.6 million sets of fingerprints. Many corporations allow callers to reset access to an online account using just a name and the last four digits of a SSN.
Another reason is that veterans are used to sharing their personally identifiable information.
For decades, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs relied on social security numbers to identify service members and military veterans for proof of age, base access, retail discounts, healthcare, and air travel. Service members and veterans consistently display credentials to strangers that unnecessarily expose their sensitive personal information.
What’s Being Done to Protect Veterans from Identity Theft?
The VA’s “Veteran Through its Privacy Service“ works to ensure that the personally identifiable information and protected health information of veterans and their beneficiaries are safeguarded. That is done through credit monitoring, awareness training, reduced use of Social Security numbers and changes in records management.
Some other ways veterans can proactively guard their information are:
- Create strong computer passwords that employ a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Steer clear of obvious passwords like your birth date, mother’s maiden name or your favorite sports team. Never use any part of your Social Security number.
- Lock up financial documents and records containing sensitive information and don’t carry items with personal information.
- Shred sensitive documents.
- Secure your wireless network and lock your computer.
- When buying a home, be sure you pick real estate and loan specialists you can trust with your sensitive information. If you haven’t found the right partners for buying a home, Homes for Heroes can take that first step for you, by using our easy chat function on this website!