From the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs:
In commemoration of Veteran’s Day, the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB) today joined with the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs to announce new information and resources for U.S. military personnel and veterans to help protect them from the consequences of identity theft. This effort features new identity theft prevention and response tips, highlights a special “active duty” credit report alert for deployed service members and expands the services of the CPB’s Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation program specific to the needs of this population.
“I am grateful for the honorable service so many thousands of New Yorkers give to their country — whether they are stationed at Fort Drum or West Point, in Iraq or Afghanistan,” said Governor David A. Paterson. “As Governor, it is my duty to ensure our servicemen and women and our veterans receive the care and benefits they’ve earned. That’s why I am pleased to join the State Consumer Protection Board and Division of Veterans’ Affairs in announcing this new program aimed at preventing fraud and identity theft. Military families are especially vulnerable to these incidents given their frequent relocations and deployments, and we in government promise to remain extra vigilant of fraud on their behalf.”
“While members of the armed forces are away fighting for our country, the last thing they need is to come home and face a stack of credit card bills and loan statements that are not theirs. Further, our veterans deserve better than to have to contend with an identity thief using their honorable name to commit fraud,” said CPB Chairperson and Executive Director Mindy Bockstein. “On this Veteran’s Day, to honor the unselfish service of our military personnel, the CPB is pleased to work with the Division of Veterans’ Affairs, under Governor Paterson’s leadership, to release new resources to help prevent our service men and women from falling victim to identity theft and to assist them in mitigating the short and potentially long-term consequences of identity theft.”
“I know firsthand the risk service members, veterans and their families face with regard to protecting their personal identity and finances while deployed. I welcome and applaud the New York State Consumer Protection Board’s commitment to expanding their Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation program to help protect those who choose to serve and support their country,” said Jim McDonough, Director of the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs.
Identity theft continues to be a significant problem for consumers and the military is not immune. Active military personnel, veterans and their families can be particularly vulnerable to identity theft and fraud due to nonstandard work schedules, lengthy absences from home, frequent relocations and duty assignments to remote locations. Further, various data breaches have occurred in recent years affecting the records of millions of veterans.
Identity theft remains the top consumer fraud complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last year. Consumers reported losses of more than $1.8 billion to fraud and identity theft. While 20 percent was credit card fraud, government documents or benefits fraud, such as Social Security number theft, accounted for 15 percent.
New York State had the sixth highest per capita identity theft rate in the U.S., with more than 116 complaints for every 100,000 residents in 2008. More than 22,600 identity theft complaints were filed by NYS residents to the FTC.
The CPB recommends taking identity theft precautions to reduce the likelihood of falling victim to this crime. Active military personnel and veterans should consider the following tips:
Safeguard your military ID. Keep it with you or in a locked container at all times.
Don’t let mail pile up unattended if you can’t access it. Use a mail stop or P.O. Box, or have someone you trust hold your mail while you are away.
Be aware of data breaches which occur to organizations that have your personal identifiable information. If you receive a data breach notice, follow the identity theft precautions.
Ask and read about information privacy policies when seeking veteran, health and counseling services.
Explain the situation to your commanding officer. You don’t want your C.O. taken by surprise if contacted by creditors looking to collect on charges made by the identity thief.
File a police report with military law enforcement and the local police (if you are in the United States). Their reports will help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
Report scam/fraud complaints to the FTC website (www.ftc.gov). The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel/Military provides a secure online database for the military community to report concerns about identity theft, deceptive lending or mortgage practices, or other scams.
These and additional prevention and response tips are available in the CPB’s new tip sheet, Privacy Basic Training for Armed Forces: Responding to Identity Theft found on the Agency’s website at www.nysconsumer.gov.
The CPB and Division of Veterans’ Affairs are also highlighting a special “active duty” credit report alert for deployed service members. Members of the military who are stationed away from their usual duty assignment and do not expect to seek new credit while they are deployed are eligible for the alert. An “active duty” alert requires creditors to take steps to verify a person’s identity before granting credit in their name and is effective for one year, unless the person asks for it to be removed sooner. Eligible members may place another alert on their report if their deployment lasts longer than a year. For additional information, visit www.nysconsumer.gov.
This military emphasis represents an expansion of the CPB’s Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation program. In effect since January 2009, pursuant to a New York State law signed by Governor David A. Paterson in July 2008, the program is designed to raise awareness about identity theft, provide resources to help New Yorkers prevent identity theft and assist victims in addressing the consequences of this crime. Consumer advisors have been trained to intervene and troubleshoot in varied contexts, including with creditors, financial institutions, credit-reporting agencies, utilities and employers. Additional information about the program, identity theft prevention and response, privacy, data breach, security freeze and other related topics may be found on the CPB’s website at www.nysconsumer.gov.
The CPB, established in 1970 by the New York State Legislature, is the State’s top consumer watchdog and think tank. The CPB’s core mission is to protect New Yorkers by publicizing unscrupulous and questionable business practices and product recalls; conducting investigations and hearings; enforcing the Do Not Call law; researching issues; developing legislation; creating consumer education programs and materials; responding to individual marketplace complaints by securing voluntary agreements; and, representing the interests of consumers before the Public Service Commission and other State and federal agencies.
The New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs was established in 1945 to provide quality service, advocacy and counseling for New York State veterans and their families to ensure they receive benefits granted by law for their service to New York and the Nation. To contact the Division, call 1-888-VETS-NYS (1-888-838-7697) or online at www.veterans.ny.gov.