The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has unveiled a program to educate veterans and their families about the dangers of identity theft.
The identity protection campaign, known as More Than a Number, includes a website with tips on how veterans can avoid ID theft and what they should do if they suspect their identity has been stolen. A toll-free hotline, 855-578-5492, also has been established for veterans who suspect their identity has been compromised.
“We recognize that for veterans, as for all Americans in the digital age, identity theft is a growing concern,” the department’s chief information officer, Steph Warren, said in an August 2014 news release. “Our goal is to help educate and protect those who have protected this great country.”
The campaign includes resources to guide veterans in the prevention, detection and mitigation of identity theft. According to the VA, common identity theft indicators include: unexplained charges on credit cards; receiving notifications for accounts you didn’t open; not receiving normal mail or bills; and having credit applications denied for no obvious reason.
The VA also recommends ways to prevent ID theft, including using strong passwords, locking up financial documents and sensitive records, shredding sensitive documents and old files, securing wireless networks, and regularly updating computer operating systems and anti-virus programs.
As individuals, businesses and governments continue the rapid and wholesale shift to digital, the securing of personal and proprietary information presents an increasing challenge, pushing demand for qualified cybersecurity professionals.
The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center reported in August 2014 that an estimated 633 million records have been exposed nationwide since 2005 as the result of data breaches. Those records include Social Security numbers, medical records, banking information and email passwords.
In 2006, computer equipment was stolen from a VA employee’s home. The laptop and hard drive contained personal data relating to as many as 26 million active-duty servicemembers, veterans and their families, according to a report by the department’s Office of Inspector General.
Federal investigators said they were confident the data had not been misused, but the Inspector General’s report concluded that “more needs to be done to ensure protected information is adequately safeguarded.”
In recent months, major corporations also have found themselves dealing with the loss of sensitive information. Retailers Target, Michaels and Neiman Marcus each has reported that their network was hacked by cyber criminals, resulting in the loss of millions of credit cards numbers, email addresses and other customer information.
In August 2014, grocery chains Albertsons and Supervalu announced intrusions into their networks affecting hundreds of stores, while Community Health Systems, a hospital company based in Tennessee, reported that a cyber attack exposed the personal information of 4.5 million patients.
Public- and private-sector organizations are beefing up their cybersecurity resources to combat such attacks. Jobs for Information Security Analysts are expected to grow by 37% between 2012 and 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
A June 2014 study by the RAND Corp. found that the lack of cybersecurity professionals “creates risks for national and homeland security.” Among possible steps to counter this shortage, the study recommended attracting more women to the profession.