Veterans urged to watch credit after data stolen

| Friday, May 26, 2006

Days after a disk containing identifying information for as many as 26.5 million veterans – and in some cases their family members – was stolen, the Department of Veterans Affairs is urging veterans to keep a close eye on their credit reports.

The department said on its Web site that the disk contained no financial or health information, but it did contain information such as names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth. The information was on a computer disc and was stolen from the home of a VA employee who had taken it home, without permission.

James Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs, said in a statement that the department is investigating the matter and is conducting “a very extensive review of individuals up and down the chain of command.” The FBI has also launched its own investigation into the matter.

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

In the meantime, the VA has set up a manned call center that veterans can contact for more information. The number is (800) 333-4636 and will operate from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday for as long as it is needed. 

The VA is also urging veterans to take advantage of the free credit report they are entitled to under the law. Anyone is entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from one of the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The reports can be ordered online at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Additional credit reports can be obtained for a fee by contacting any of the three companies. Fees vary by company.

The site also has information on what to do if you suspect there has been fraudulent activity. You can place a fraud alert on your credit file by calling one of the three major credit reporting companies directly:

Once one company has been notified, the other two will be automatically notified of the alert.

Robert Siciliano – a credit expert who has dispensed advice on identity theft on numerous TV talk shows and news programs – told “Land Line Now” that veterans should consider ordering what’s called a “freeze” or a “flag” on their credit accounts.

He said either action prevents outsiders from accessing the accounts – while allowing a credit card holder to use their card with a special personal identification number.

Siciliano says another option to a credit freeze or flag is to pay a credit monitoring company between $8 and $15 a month to monitor your credit.

He said if they see any suspicious activity, they notify you.

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