Veterans Dealing with Possible ID Theft Threat - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

05/23/06

Veterans Dealing with Possible ID Theft Threat

The personal information and identification of 26 million veterans could be out in the open. Now, the US government says it knew about the problem for three weeks before telling the people affected.

On May 3, someone stole a Veterans Administration employee's home computer and hard drive. They contained names, social security numbers and birth dates of every living veteran from 1975 through the present.

The government kept the theft under wraps because it didn't want to tip off the thieves to what they had in their possession, fearing they would sell the information to the highest bidder.

The theft is stunning news for local veterans. Many are worried about what may happen next. WTOC talked with officials and vets about the problem. They put the blame on both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the analyst who took the documents home without permission.

But they don't want to spend time pointing fingers, they just want someone to get their information back.

Veterans gave up their time and their youth for our country. But they always had their names, and their honor. Now someone may try to take that away from them too.

"One of their obligations is to keep data secret and they have failed," said veteran Jeb Newton.

The VA is in charge of medical and financial details of many veterans' lives, veterans who depend on them to survive. As commander of American Legion post 135 in Savannah, Newton trusts Veterans Affairs with his information, and believes the agency should stand up for the veterans, and work harder to keep those personal details safe.

"Confidential records are confidential records, and they shouldn't be compromised, and they were," he said. "The question is how high up the ladder does the culpability go."

"I try to get on that computer and I can't remember my password, but everyone else knows everything about me," said veteran Ervin Smith.

He says he's not surprised about the possible identity theft. He believes, thanks to computers, everyone's personal details are more vulnerable than ever.

But he is still hopeful that the person who stole the information doesn't know what they have, and if they do, they want to give it back. "If he's been a bum all his life, been a crook all his life, this is the time he needs to come clean for the people around them and the forgiveness of them and the Lord too."

So, what should you do if you think someone has stolen your identity? The Better Business Bureau recommends three steps: Keep a close eye on your bank and credit card accounts. Make sure to note any unusual activity or purchases you didn't make. You can do that online, by phone or in person.

Then, pull a credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian or Trans Union. They can tell you if any new accounts have been opened under your name.

And finally, if your identity has been stolen, then get in touch with your bank and credit card companies and have them switch account numbers. So they will be different from what the ID thief has.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it still don't know if the thief targeted this information or if it was just an unfortunate coincidence. They will be sending out letters to all local veterans explaining exactly what happened, and what is being done to catch the crooks and get their information back.

Here are some points of contact for more information:

Veterans Affairs Hotline
1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636)
8am-9pm Monday-Saturday
www.firstgov.gov

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FTC Identity Theft Hotline
1-877-438-4338
www.consumer.gov/idtheft

By mail:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580

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Credit bureaus, to check your credit reports, put fraud alerts on these records, and learn more about identity theft:
www.equifax.com
www.experian.com
www.transunion.com

Reported by: Andrew Davis, andrewdavis@wtoc.com

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