Not long ago, veterans were considered the most-targeted group by identity thieves in the United States. In fact, 26.5 million identities were compromised as a result of poor data encryption.
Veteran Affairs (VA) changed how information gets handled within their network as a result of the massive security breach. Prior to that, almost every communication between veterans and VA staff involved the use of the veteran’s Social Security Number (SSN) as a primary identifier.
Now, that is no longer the case and there are extra levels of encryption, mandatory annual safety training, and much more. Your information should be considered safe and secure within the VA’s network, so it’s just a matter of controlling the outside variables.
The following six identity theft prevention tips will particularly benefit veterans looking to prevent identity theft.
1) Get a Credit Freeze
Before getting specific, it’s important to cover the effectiveness of placing a credit freeze on your file. Doing so prevents new creditors from being able to pull your file, without you first giving consent to the respective bureau(s) to release it.
A credit freeze does cost money — check your state’s laws to find out exactly what they cost, whether they expire, and if you could get them for free. In 2012, over 12.4 million veterans were 65+ and this makes up for almost half of the total veteran population. Quite a few states offer free credit freeze placement (and more) to seniors aged 65 or more — in fact, you only have to be 62 or older in Louisiana.
2) Beware of Veteran Discount Scams
There are many impersonation scams that fraudsters run to steal sensitive details about their potential victims. It might surprise you, but some identity thieves go as far as to set up a fake discount cell phone booth in front of VA buildings. As convincing as the offer seems, you must be extra precautions about any discounts or freebies given to veterans.
Now, that does not mean that all veteran discounts are scams. There are many legitimate service providers that will offer discounts for veterans as a way of showing respect to them. You can check with your current provider, or shop around between the main names in the respective market. Alternatively, there is ONE trusted program for discount (and possibly free!) cell phone services — LifeLine — but, it is for eligible low-income individuals.
If you are serious about finding discounted goods and services for veterans, then check out Veteran’s Advantage — it’s a military benefits program that passes on savings to veterans.
3) Request New ID Cards Under TRICARE
If your SSN is listed on your identification card, you can request new ones through TRICARE to omit this sensitive piece of data. The new cards come with numbers issued by the Department of Defense in place of the SSN. Each recipient will be issued both a Department of Defense Identification Number and a Department of Defense Benefits Number (DBN).
Earlier this year, the Veterans Identification Card Act was passed by congress. The result of this Act is a new veteran idenitification card which will be sent out to all veterans. This is expected to happen soon, but there is no definitive deadline.
4) Invest in a Paper Shredder
As a veteran, you will have a lot of paperwork to keep with you at home. This can be hard to keep track of, which is why you should discard of it when it’s no longer needed. A paper shredder is recommended to ensure the sensitive information is not recoverable. For best results, it’s recommended to get a heavy-duty shredder that can cut through both compact discs and plastic cards.
The majority of sensitive documents that you will hold onto will likely have came through your mailbox. As such, it’s important to also consider the safety of your mail. The two main options would be to either get a mailbox lock or order a PO box at your nearest post office.
5) Avoid Falling for Vishing Scams
Vishing consists of a fraudster contacting you by phone with the intention of “phishing” your information. This used to be a frequent threat — particularly when it was common practice for veterans to use their SSN as their identifier. While it is no longer a substantial threat, there’s no guarantee a social-engineering identity thief will spare you.
The most important thing to remember is that you should not share any sensitive information about yourself without first confirming who’s actually on the phone. You can just ask for the extension line they can be reached at, and then call them back to continue the conversation. This should be standard practice, whether you receive a call from VA staff, credit card providers, or otherwise.
If you are unfamiliar with the caller, make sure to also determine whether the number you were called from is legitimate. To do so, just search the number that called (and any call-back number) in Google and look for what you can find. There are many websites built for the purpose of allowing the general public note phone numbers, along with details of who the caller appears to be, what they said, and so on.
6) Explore the VA’s ‘More Than a Number’ Program
VA started ‘Identity Safety Service’ back in 2006 as a way to combat non-safe data handling between staff and veterans. The features of this program have only enhanced over time, and identity monitoring was later introduced. There have been in excess of 1,000 warnings to veterans who were potentially victims of identity crimes.
In 2014, the initiative saw another move for the better as the ‘More Than a Number‘ program took shape. The point was to explain exactly how dangerous it can be to give up your information — whether it’s your SSN, your home address, or anything else that could identify you. It’s worth taking a look at their site — not only is there safety advice, but you will also learn how VA handles your data and what you need to do if you get victimized.
You can also get help for any specific questions or worries you may have by giving them a call. Their toll-free support number is 1-855-578-5492 and there are identity safety consultants on hand to serve you Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.
Are You on Active Military Duty?
If so, your approach towards preventing identity theft might be a little different. For those who are currently serving, here are some things to consider doing:
- Take advantage of the free 1-year active duty fraud alert.
- Use your barracks’ safety deposit boxers to keep documents safe.
- Ensure your Power of Attorney can be trusted with sensitive data.
- Get a PO box to catch any accumulated mail (during deployment).
You Need to Protect Yourself!
The truth is, VA themselves do not do a whole lot to protect your identity — but, the same can be said for identity theft protection companies. You cannot guarantee that your identity will stay safe, but knowing how to protect your information and block off fraud attempts is vital.
Elite Personal Finance makes an effort to publicize as many ways to prevent identity theft as possible. This guide alone will not be enough to ensure your identity is safe and secure. Instead of sifting through various small posts, we suggest you take 10 to 15 minutes out of your day to absorb our in-depth tips list.
Check out our ‘100 Best Ways to Prevent Identity Theft‘ post!