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(BPT) - While identity theft and similar scams are a problem for many Americans, U.S. veterans face a higher-than-average risk of falling victim to that kind of fraud.
Statistics back that up. For example, of the 200,000 reports of fraud the FTC received from military members in 2021, 78% came from military retirees and veterans. And an AARP survey shows that a whopping one-third of vets targeted by service-related scams have lost money in those scams.
What’s going on? Unfortunately, vets and their families are prime targets for fraudsters, in part because they receive special benefits and in part because while enlisted, they frequently changed residences. Past data breaches have also led to leaks of their personal information that make the problem worse.
The good news is that vets can follow these 11 suggestions for protecting themselves and their families from fraud.
1. Practice skepticism. Be suspicious of unexpected calls, emails or text messages that demand action from you. Fraudsters often masquerade as legitimate organizations by creating authentic-seeming caller IDs, email addresses and websites; for example, their email addresses may be similar to those you know and trust, but they’ll be off by one letter — or they’ll end with .net instead of .com, .gov or .org. When in doubt, don’t click on the provided link or attachments or follow their directions; instead, end communications and contact the real organizations directly via the number listed on your latest bill or their official website to check whether the sketchy-seeming communications are legitimate.
2. Protect your private data. Be wary about sharing or allowing others to overhear your family’s Social Security numbers (SSNs), birth dates or other personal info. Provide the data only when necessary, then confirm how it will be secured. Black-out personal info on any forms you wish to use to access discounts.
3. Create a family code word. Provide that word to the legitimate banks, insurance providers and organizations with which you work so they can easily prove they’re not fraudulent.
4. Review account statements and credit reports. Regularly look over financial, medical and other statements. Every four months, request and read one of the free credit reports offered by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Follow up on any questionable charges or other discrepancies.
5. Set up free fraud alerts. Any of the three credit bureaus can arrange for you to be automatically contacted in the event of suspicious charges.
6. When in doubt, freeze your credit. If you’re experiencing identity theft or other possible fraud, a freeze will keep criminals from further accessing your credit.
7. Protect sensitive documents. Shred or keep safe papers containing personal info, including tax forms, birth certificates, Social Security cards, bank account statements and military benefit forms.
8. Be strategic about passwords. Use complex and different passwords, or even "pass-phrases" for each online account, incorporating multiple digits, upper- and lower-case letters and special characters. Stay away from obvious words like pets’ names, your hometown or your favorite sports team. Never write them down. A password manager tool can help you keep them all straight.
9. Forward your mail. Have all mail forwarded when you move or relocate so credit card offers and other documents with potentially private data don't fall into the wrong hands.
10. Set up an active-duty credit alert. For active-duty service members, ask one of the three credit bureaus to mark your file with this free, one-year alert. It encourages lenders and creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before approving new or additional credit. Your name will also be removed from pre-screened credit card or insurance offers for two years.
11. Know the signs of identity theft. Indicators may include a lost ID; unfamiliar charges on your bank or credit card statements; credit score issues, calls trying to verify unfamiliar purchases; unfamiliar medical bills; mail theft; suspicious logins to your social media accounts; unrecognized account authentication messages; the arrival of unfamiliar bills or packages; or even warrants for your arrest.
Looking for even better peace of mind when it comes to fraud protection? Aura’s user-friendly, all-in-one digital security platform continually monitors your credit, financial transactions, bank accounts, SSN, the dark web, home and title use, and criminal and court records to help keep your finances and identity safe and secure. As added protection, Aura’s U.S.-based customer service team is available for problem resolution 24/7, and each customer is backed by a $1 million identity theft insurance policy for eligible losses.
Aura thanks military members, veterans and their families for their service and sacrifices by offering a two-week free trial and up to 50% off protection plans. Visit aura.com/veterans for more info.