Naval Reserve officer Jeff Chin said he has been monitoring his credit report closely and cracking down on identity theft attempts since 2015. That’s the year he was caught in a breach massive amount of data at the Federal Office of Personnel Management. A hacker stole millions of records, including tens of thousands of service members who had applied for security clearances like Chin.
“It, obviously, was disturbing to me to hear that all of this information is now out there and in cyberspace,” Chin said. “It was more than a temporary annoyance. It was all my information there, and it was really shocking.
Chin’s security clearance data was breached and since then he said he has been targeted by identity thieves trying to open credit cards and bank accounts in his name.
“It’s one of those things where we’re constantly looking for that ping in the email and the monitoring service to say, ‘Hey, that flag popped up,'” Chin said of his efforts and those of his family to ensure that their data is secure. .
Even his wife and daughter have faced impersonation issues, which Chin attributes to the leak of his Navy background investigation. Still, he says he’s lucky the breach didn’t derail his military career.
“My security clearance was no longer something that would affect my ability to move into different jobs and perform different missions,” Chin said. “Others weren’t so lucky.”
According to AARP, military families and veterans are nearly 40% more likely than civilians to be victimized by scammers and cyberthieves – and 80% of attacks are specifically aimed at their military benefits.
Chin is now the executive director of the New England chapter of Blue Star Families. The advocacy group has partnered with Aura, a cybersecurity company, to educate service members and their families about how the military lifestyle puts them at increased risk of fraud.
Aura founder Hari Ravichandran said the 2015 Office of Personnel Management hack was just one of the threats.
“The pocket we see that is particularly vulnerable is military personnel who are deployed overseas,” Ravichandran said, as they might not have easy access to monitor their bank account and credit records. Additionally, members of the service typically move every few years, creating opportunities for hackers to steal their personal data.
Ravichandran said the threats extend beyond active duty troops.
“We spoke with a lot of veterans, where they had no idea their identity had been stolen,” Ravichandran said. “They end up moving, going to apply for a mortgage, and then can’t get a mortgage because a lot of their credit information is messed up.”
He said veterans are attractive targets for criminals because they have access to a host of government benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as disability benefits and loans for housing and l ‘education.
“It’s the military family’s job to clean up, and that’s the problem with a lot of these types of thefts: you have to prove to the bank and the credit bureaus that you’re not the person who did it. actually had these negative events, and sometimes it takes months,” Ravichandran said, adding that service members should be proactive in protecting their personal data through password managers and credit monitoring.
Chin, the Navy reservist with Blue Star Families, said he and his family have become accustomed to constantly monitoring their credit reports for suspicious activity.
“It added a layer of work, frankly — administrative work for me to maintain my military career,” said Chin, who, in addition to his position at Blue Star Families, also works for a nonprofit. of social work in Massachusetts. “It’s hard enough being a reservist where you’re handling a full-time job as a civilian, and then reserve duty is often more than a part-time job.”
He said he was particularly concerned about new scams targeting veterans who were exposed to burning fireplaces overseas or who were impacted by water contamination at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Carolina. North.
Whenever veteran-related laws are passed — like the PACT Act to expand benefits for troops who have been exposed to toxins — Chin said he receives a flood of fraudulent emails claiming to offer relief. help accessing benefits.
“I can say with confidence that everyone I’ve met in the military is bombarded with these kinds of requests,” Chin said. “Some of them are very obvious scams, but some of them have become very sophisticated.”
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.