Credit & Debt Most Popular Articles

Latest Information on Veterans Affairs Data Security

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently learned that an employee, a data analyst, took home electronic data from the VA, which he was not authorized to do. This behavior was in violation of VA policies. This data contained identifying information including names, social security numbers, and dates of birth for up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings. Importantly, the affected data did not include any of VA's electronic health records nor any financial information. The employee's home was burglarized and this data was stolen. The employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

Appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the VA Inspector General's office, have launched full-scale investigations into this matter. Authorities believe it is unlikely the perpetrators targeted the items because of any knowledge of the data contents. It is possible that they remain unaware of the information which they possess or of how to make use of it. However, out of an abundance of caution, the VA is taking all possible steps to protect and inform our veterans.

The VA is working with members of Congress, the news media, veterans service organizations, and other government agencies to help ensure that veterans and their families are aware of the situation and of the steps they may take to protect themselves from misuse of their personal information. The VA will send out individual notification letters to veterans to every extent possible. Additionally, working with other government agencies, the VA has set up a manned call center that veterans may call to get information about this situation and learn more about consumer identity protections. That toll free number is 1-800-FED INFO (1-800-333-4636). The call center will operate from 8 am to 9 pm (EDT), Monday-Saturday as long as it is needed.

Here are some questions you may have about this incident, and their answers.

What Happened and How Does this Affect Me?
How do I Know if Information on Me Was Stolen?
What Should I Do To Protect Myself?
What Should I do if I Detect a Problem With Any of My Accounts?
What is the Department of Veterans Affairs Doing About the Situation?

What happened?

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently learned that an employee, a data analyst, took home electronic data from the VA, which he was not authorized to do. This behavior was in violation of VA policies. The employee's home was burglarized and this data was stolen. This data contained identifying information including names, social security numbers, and dates of birth for up to 26.5 million veterans and some spouses, as well as some disability ratings. Authorities believe it is unlikely the perpetrators targeted the items because of any knowledge of the data contents. It is possible that they remain unaware of the information that they possess or of how to make use of it. However, out of an abundance of caution, the VA is taking all possible steps to protect and inform our veterans.

What action has been taken against this employee?

The employee has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

What information was included?

Importantly, the affected data did not include any of VA's electronic health records or any financial information. The data lost is primarily limited to an individual's name, date of birth, and social security number, and in some case's their spouse's information, as well as some disability ratings. However, this information could still be of potential use to identity thieves, and we recommend that all veterans be extra vigilant in monitoring for signs of potential identity theft or misuse of this information.

I heard on the news that the information stolen included disability ratings. What information does that include?

The information stolen did not include any of VA's electronic health records. For some veterans who have applied for VA disability compensation benefits and have been determined by VA to have a disability related to their military service, the data may have included the number of service-connected disabilities a veteran has and the veteran's overall disability percentage rating.

How do I know if information about me was stolen?

At this point there is no evidence that any missing data has been used illegally. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs is asking all veterans to be extra vigilant and to carefully monitor bank statements, credit card statements and any statements relating to recent financial transactions. If you notice unusual or suspicious activity, you should report it immediately to the financial institution involved and contact the Federal Trade Commission for further guidance.

Does this only affect veterans discharged after 1975?

It potentially affects all veterans who were discharged after 1975, which is when VA automated its records systems and began regular input of information received from the Department of Defense on all separating veterans.

When VA automated its records systems, VA also input data from all historical claimant records that had been manually maintained by the agency. This data loss therefore also potentially affects all veterans who have ever filed a claim for VA disability compensation, pension, or Education benefits, or who have (or had) a VA insurance policy ? no matter when the claim was filed or when they were discharged. These veterans would be included even if their claim was denied or they are not currently receiving benefits.

We urge all veterans to be extra vigilant and monitor their financial accounts.

I have never applied for benefits from VA. Do I need to be concerned?

The electronic data stolen includes information from many veterans who have never filed for VA benefits or contacted VA. Since the 1970s, VA has received information from the Department of Defense on all who served. You are encouraged to take steps to protect yourself against identity theft.

I am the spouse, widow, or child of a veteran. Was my information included?

The Department of Veterans Affairs recommends extra vigilance when monitoring bank statements, credit card statements and any statements relating to recent financial transactions. If you notice unusual or suspicious activity, you should report it immediately to the financial institution involved and contact the Federal Trade Commission for further guidance.

Will I still get my monthly benefit payment?

Yes. There will be no impact on benefit payments.

What Should I Do?

What should I do to protect myself? Do I have to close my bank account or cancel my credit cards?

At this point there is no evidence that any missing data has been used illegally. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs is asking all veterans to be extra vigilant and to carefully monitor bank statements, credit card statements and any statements relating to recent financial transactions. If you notice unusual or suspicious activity, you should report it immediately to the financial institution involved and contact the Federal Trade Commission for further guidance.

For tips on how to guard against misuse of personal information, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at http://www.ftc.gov/.

You do not have to close your bank account or cancel your credit cards. You should however take steps to protect yourself against identity theft.

One way to monitor your financial accounts is to review your credit report. By law you are entitled to one free credit report each year. Request a free credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, TransUnion - at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

What do you mean by suspicious activity?

Suspicious activities could include the following:

Inquiries from companies you haven't contacted or done business with
Purchases or charges on your accounts you didn't make
New accounts you didn't open or changes to existing accounts you didn't make
Bills that don't arrive as expected
Unexpected credit cards or account statements
Denials of credit for no apparent reason
Calls or letters about purchases you didn't make
What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes.

I haven't noticed any suspicious activity in my financial statements, but what can I do to protect myself and prevent being victimized by credit card fraud or identity theft?

The Department of Veterans Affairs strongly recommends that veterans closely monitor their financial statements and review the guidelines provided on this web page (http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo) or call 1 (800) FED INFO (1-800-333-4636).

Should I reach out to my financial institutions or will the Department of Veterans Affairs do this for me?

The Department of Veterans Affairs does not believe that it is necessary to contact financial institutions or cancel credit cards and bank accounts, unless you detect suspicious activity.

What is the earliest date at which suspicious activity might have occurred due to this data breach?

The information was stolen from an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs during the month of May 2006. If the data has been misused or otherwise used to commit fraud or identity theft crimes, it is likely that veterans may notice suspicious activity during the month of May.

What should I do if I detect a problem with any of my accounts?

The Federal Trade Commission recommends the following four steps if you detect suspicious activity:

Step 1 - Contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus:

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, Texas 75013
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Step 2 - Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

Step 3 - File a police report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

Step 4 - File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by using the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline:

By telephone: 1-877-438-4338
Online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft
By mail at Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20580.

Where can I get more information?

Please check this web page (http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo) for further updates or call 1 (800) FED INFO (1-800-333-4636).

What are my remedies if my identity is stolen and used illegally?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has produced a booklet to help you remedy the effects of an identity theft. It describes what steps to take, your legal rights, how to handle specific problems you may encounter on the way to clearing your name, and what to watch for in the future. The contents of the booklet, Taking Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft, are available on-line at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheft.htm.

What is VA Doing about the Situation?

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working with the President's Identity Theft Task Force, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this data breach and to develop safeguards against similar incidents. Task Force members have already taken actions to protect the affected veterans, including working with the credit bureaus to help ensure that veterans receive the free credit report they are entitled to under the law.

Appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs, have launched full-scale investigations into this matter.

I heard there is a $50,000 reward for helping solve this crime. Can you tell me more about it?

On May 25, 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have announced a $50,000 reward through the Montgomery County (Maryland) Crime Solvers organization, for information that leads to the recovery of a laptop computer and external hard drive that contained personal information for millions of veterans.

Montgomery County Police are working with the FBI and the VA OIG in the investigation of a residential burglary that occurred on May 3, 2006, in the Aspen Hill community of Montgomery County. Taken during that burglary was a laptop computer and external hard drive which contained identifying information for approximately 26.5 million veterans.

At this stage of the investigation there is no evidence that the suspect or suspects responsible for the theft had any knowledge of what information was stored on the hard drive.

The primary objective of the investigation is the recovery of the laptop and external hard drive. Anyone who can provide information that leads to the recovery of the laptop and external hard drive that contains the veterans' data should call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). A cash reward of $50,000 will be paid for information provided to the Crime Solvers tip line that leads to the recovery of these items.

How is information being shared?

We are providing as much information as we have about the incident and alerting veterans of the situation.

Veterans should continue to monitor this web page (http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo) for further updates.

VA has set up a manned call center that veterans may call to get information about this situation and learn more about consumer identity protections. Concerned veterans may call 1 (800) FED INFO (1-800-333-4636). The call center will operate from 8 am to 9 pm (EDT), Monday-Saturday as long as it is needed.

Will VA send me a letter?

The VA will send out individual notification letters to veterans to every extent possible. Due to the number of veterans who potentially could have been affected, VA is developing a method for individual notifications, where possible. We do not yet know when these letters will be released.

When will more information be available?

VA will provide as much information as possible in a letter to affected veterans. We do not know the timeframe for release of these letters, but VA is working as fast as possible. In the meantime, continue to be vigilant. Updated information will be provided at this web page (http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo) or call 1 (800) FED INFO (1-800-333-4636).

What will be done to prevent this from happening in the future?

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working with the President's Identity Theft Task Force, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this data breach and to develop safeguards against similar incidents. The Department of Veterans Affairs has directed all VA employees complete the "VA Cyber Security Awareness Training Course" and complete the separate "General Employee Privacy Awareness Course" by June 30, 2006. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs will immediately be conducting an inventory and review of all current positions requiring access to sensitive VA data and require all employees requiring access to sensitive VA data to undergo an updated National Agency Check and Inquiries (NACI) and/or a Minimum Background Investigation (MBI) depending on the level of access required by the responsibilities associated with their position. Appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs, have launched full-scale investigations into this matter.

*To get a free copy of your credit report visit Experian.com.

Military News App by Military.com

Download the new Military.com News App for Android on Google Play or for Apple devices on iTunes!

Featured VA Loan Articles