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Veterans Advantage Says Active Duty Military, Veterans and Families Most Susceptible to Identity Theft This Holiday Season, Big Data Also a Major Concern

Veterans Advantage, the Nation’s leading private-sector benefits program dedicated to “Giving Back to All Who Serve," said today that U.S. military veterans, active duty and their families are the highest group at risk for identity theft this holiday season.

According to a Federal Trade Commission consumer study released in 2013, the percentage of identity theft complaints from the military demographic is more than double that of the general public. Veterans Advantage has uncovered three contributing factors that the organization believes have led to this disturbingly higher incidence of reported military identity theft:

1. Veterans are often required to provide highly sensitive personal information such as DD214’s or Social Security numbers in commercial environments where there is no universal standard or legally binding protocol for handling and safeguarding a veteran’s personal information.

2. Veterans use their government ID’s in retail establishments for military discounts and employees responsible for verifying military service with these documents may generate a non-secure paper trail and the information becomes vulnerable to loss or theft.

3. Veterans are vulnerable to offers of ‘free discounts for vets.” Recently, there has been a proliferation of Internet startups that offer companies online military identification verification, so they may directly advertise military discounts for veterans. Most are, in reality, “data grabs.” Veterans are also easy prey for companies that are big data consolidators whose operations are thinly disguised as military-friendly advertisers of “free veteran discounts.”

The results of a separate December 2012 study commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs concurred that veterans have higher rates of identity theft than the general public. The study identified the key problem leading to veterans ID theft as poor handling of veterans’ highly sensitive data and security breaches by workplace employees charged with data handling.

To protect veterans identities, Veterans Advantage suggests a company would need to put in place extra workplace measures to protect the highly sensitive information collected from government issued identification, such as a DD214, to ensure that every cashier, employee, and computer data programmer has been trained in their role to protect their customer’s veteran data and then regularly audit those procedures to ensure that they are in compliance.

“We work with major corporations every day, and it is our understanding that to execute this level of vigilance is next to impossible in a retail environment,” said Scott Higgins, a Vietnam Veteran, Founder and CEO of Veterans Advantage. “So, we want to warn veterans that any such expectation is totally unrealistic. Veterans should not be handing over their personal data just to get a retail discount, because it leaves them vulnerable to identity theft, and it’s just not worth it,” Higgins continued. “To try to reclaim your identity has to be one of life’s worst nightmares.”

“Hundreds of thousands of veterans experience the nightmare of identity theft every year, and with the advent of “Big Data,” we are concerned that that level is poised to rise even further,” added Higgins. “Unfortunately, not everyone has the best interests of veterans in mind, and military, veterans and their families are a vulnerable population. They can be “sitting ducks” for identity thieves, as they have been conditioned to provide sensitive personal information on request in their military lives, and continue to practice this habit as veterans.”

Additionally, Mr. Higgins said that the advent of Big Data also poses significant risks to veterans this holiday season. “Many companies mislead veterans with offers of free services or discounts, only to quietly sell, rent or share that data with other corporations without their explicit knowledge. This practice leaves veterans wide open to identify theft, not to mention data mining and profiling discrimination, or privacy invasion from the sale of their credit profiles or access to their private medical records with their personal information.”

THE FOUR S’s: CONSUMER TIPS FOR MILITARY FAMILIES THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

To best protect themselves and their families from becoming victims of identity theft this holiday season, Veterans Advantage recommends that all members of the U.S. military community be more vigilant in self-administering the following four protocols:

1. Be Safe: Never use your Social Security Number, DD214, birth date, mother’s maiden name, or other highly sensitive personal information to obtain a merchant discount. This is considered an ‘overreaching data’ requirement.

2. Be Smart: Don’t be lured by ‘free military discount offers.’ Understand that nothing is free, and that something has to fund the company operations. Personal data is often sold, rented or shared to generate revenues, compromising personal and financial security.

3. Be Suspicious: Dig deep to find how your data is used, and where you data is going. Be especially wary of start-up organizations without an established business history, as they can be more susceptible to bankruptcies, mergers or sale of your data to an unknown party, sometimes outside the country and outside the reach of U.S. law.

4. Be Secure: Data grabs are big business today. Only do business with trusted organizations with a longstanding record of protecting veterans and their interests. Frequent companies that do not require overreaching data or your government issued IDs to access their military discounts.

About Veterans Advantage:

The program’s mission is to deliver greater respect, recognition, and rewards for U.S. active duty, military veterans, retired military, active and retired National Guard & Reservists, spouses and next-of-kin family members, who have served in all branches and periods of service. Veterans Advantage is rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau and provides an Exclusive Benefits Plan, consisting of $50,000 of Global MEDEVAC Coverage, $5,000 AD&D Insurance, plus VIP Concierge Services from Chartis and a valuable personal financial planning package. Veterans Advantage’s nationally–recognized VetRewards Card ID offers exclusive savings as a thank you for service to the country from top brand name companies, including United Airlines, Lufthansa Airlines, Amtrak, Greyhound, Wendy’s, Ford & Lincoln Cars and Trucks, Verizon Wireless, CVS/pharmacy, Apple, Dell Computer, Foot Locker, Target.com, Choice Hotels, Wyndham, Avis/Budget Group and Dollar/Thrifty, among others. Veterans Advantage is also a Founding Partner of the November celebration of Veterans Week NYC, newly established in 2012 by NYC Mayoral Proclamation. The VetRewards Card is the “Official Card of Veterans Week NYC.” More at http://www.VeteransAdvantage.com.

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