Juneau's veterans are on guard for signs of identity theft after a breach of vital information for millions of their comrades.
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Some 26.5 million veterans are at risk of identity theft after an intruder stole an electronic data file containing their names, birth dates and Social Security numbers from the Maryland home of a Department of Veterans Affairs data analyst.
"We are keeping our eyes and ears open and watching accounts," said veteran John Wilkins, director of services for Disabled American Veterans of Alaska. "I trust the government and Veterans Affairs will stand behind us and help us. After 20 years of service I do have faith in my country."
Wilkins oversees DAV service officers who assist veterans filing for medical assistance and compensation, he said. Compensation and disability checks will be coming today, and many former soldiers worried about how the lost information might affect checks, he said.
The VA disclosed last week the personal information is mainly from veterans discharged since 1975.
"It is a potential hazard that they (thieves) can get into bank accounts and play havoc," Wilkins said. "We are very scared and concerned."
How to fight back
The Department of Veterans Affairs recommends veterans closely monitor their financial statements.
A special Web site by the department is at http://www.firstgov.gov. Inquiries can also be made by phone at 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636).
The department is planning to send letters to veterans whose personal information has been compromised.
Of about 70,000 veterans in Alaska, about 30,000 draw compensation, Wilkins said. The theft represents the biggest unauthorized disclosure ever of Social Security data and it could make affected veterans vulnerable to credit card fraud if the burglars realize the value of the data.
"I am worried that someday I will just disappear from the records and my savings account will be gone," veteran Clayton Love said. "I am vigilant and will check my account, which I recommend to other vets."
Love served in the U.S. Army from 1972 to 1990 in Korea, the United States and Germany. He is on a fixed income and is disabled.
"The VA guy shouldn't have taken home the information and someone should be held accountable," said Gerald Dorsher, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Juneau. "We are trying to keep up with all the information that is popping up."
It is important to keep other veterans informed of the lapse of security, Dorsher said.
"They (the thieves) have the soldiers' Social Security numbers, family members' information, birthdays and about every other important data on veterans since 1975," said Jim Pisa, commander of Post 25 of American Legion. "It is just like a credit card application, where they have your identity, only it's worse."
Veterans' representatives say vets need to know and monitor their credit scores, and credit card and bank statements. The VA plans to send letters to all of the veterans to notify them their personal information has been compromised. As of Tuesday, none of the veterans interviewed for this story had been notified.
Jason Steele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.