Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Important Information For Veterans Regarding Identity Theft

Over 26.5 million veterans found themselves at risk for identity theft in 2006 when a federal employee s lap top computer, containing important personal information such as name, date of birth, address and social security number, as well as benefits eligibility. Another 16,000 veterans were at risk when a government contractor s lap top computer was stolen from his home. It is a common practice for the VA to contract out certain jobs such as software support and insurance billing and claims resolution to a subcontractor. According to a statement issued by the Veterans Administration this is done in order to provide better customer service. But what happens when this "customer service puts the customer at risk of identity theft and false claims for benefits? In this the most recent incident, of a contractor, the contracting company, Unisys Corporation offered free credit reports to those affected. However, free annual credit reports are already available through the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Veteran s Administration also claimed that it works closely with contractors in developing the "highest standards" of protection and security. However, it does not designate what systems are in place to protect a veteran s information. The federal employee who took home veterans information on a laptop computer was required to undergo computer security and regulations training. Thousands of people were or may have been affected by this lack of stringent rules regarding the protection of their information. And the options available to them after the information may have been released were not comforting. They were advised to obtain their free credit report, monitor it (at an additional charge to the veteran) and then to report to local law enforcement authorities any problems with their credit or instances of identity theft. Veteran s circumstances and the effects of identity theft are unique. Many veterans are recipients of additional benefits such as education and medical that most people are not. Their children may also be eligible for specific benefits, either monetary, educational, home buying or medical. This makes identity theft, an already serious problem, even more complicated. Veteran s whether they feel their information is at risk or not should be extra vigilant. In addition to taking many of the steps to protect their personal, financial, and medical information they should go many steps further to protect their information, their benefits and the benefits for their family. Be sure to install virus and anti spyware to protect information contained on your computer. Do not conduct personal or financial business at work, as it puts you at risk of being overheard. You may not be as protected by the business computer security system as you think you are. Consider placing a "credit freeze" on your credit information. This requires the three major credit agencies to contact you to "lift" the freeze before making any changes to or issuing any new credit in your name. You may take steps yourself to perform the credit freeze or you may use a service such as Trusted ID. In the event your credit, personal, financial or benefits information appears to be at risk or "stolen" you should do the following: dispute the information on your credit report and ask the three major credit reporting agencies of TransUnion, Experian and Equifax to place a fraud flag on your credit file. Contact the credit lenders and advise them of the situation as stated on your credit report. Placing a fraud alert insures that additional steps are taken before new accounts or changes to existing account in your name can occur. Although everyone should review their Social Security Benefit information to determine if their benefits have been illegally used, veterans in particular should review both the Social Security Benefits statement as well as their Veterans Benefits eligibility. To order a Social Security Benefits report, contact the Social Security Administration office or order online. The first step for protecting veteran s information is for government agencies and contractors to take those efforts necessary to protect this information. The next step is for veteran s to do all that they can to keep their information private. However, in the event these efforts are not effective veterans much report and dispute false or incorrect information on their credit report or other service reports. It is necessary after reporting to the local law enforcement to contact the Veteran s Administration office, your State s Attorney General s office and The Federal Trade Commission, or visit their web site. Lisa Carey is a contributing author for Identity Theft Secrets: prevention and protection . You can get tips on Identity theft protection, software, and monitoring your credit as well as learn more about the secrets used by identity thieves at the Identity Theft Secrets blog

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