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Stolen data worries vets

Whidbey Island is home to thousands of military veterans, so concern here is high over an enormous incident of theft of private information.

“I think this is pretty serious,” said Fred McDaniel Jr., commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7392 in Oak Harbor. “I have concerns about the security of my data.”

For those who served their country and defended its freedoms, the theft of their confidential information is an unkind repayment of the sacrifices they made.

In May, the Department of Veterans Affairs discovered that personal information for over 26.5 million veterans and their spouses was stolen during a robbery at the home of a VA data analyst.

As time goes by the scope of this breach becomes larger. Now, 2.2 million active military personnel, nearly 80 percent of all those on active duty, are also reportedly among those whose information has been taken.

Personal information may have included Social Security numbers, birth dates, phone numbers and addresses.

The information could be used to open fraudulent accounts, apply for credit or syphon money from existing accounts.

“While so far there have been no reports that the stolen data has been used for identity theft, Washington veterans should be enabled to take proactive steps to protect themselves from harm,” State Attorney General Rob McKenna said in statement to the press.

“It’s a pretty big concern to us,” Jim Self, the executive director of Senior Services for Island County. “There’s been some concern from our senior veterans.”

Island County is home to a large population of retired veterans. Some of these veterans will soon receive notice that their information was among that which was stolen.

“I not real happy with the whole situation,” said Bill Pardy, a retired Navy petty officer first class who expects to receive his notice.

“So far, the person responsible is just getting a slap on the wrist,” said Pardy about the VA employee who took home a laptop computer containing the private information. “It’s a shame that one of our own did this to us. The guy responsible should be hung.”

How the theft could occur doesn’t make sense to many vets.

“I worked for the VA for a few years,” said Carl Gotcher, a VFW member and Vietnam veteran. “No one is supposed to have that kind of information at their home.”

Veterans are warned to keep a close eye on the status of their credit and personal accounts. All veterans are urged to carefully monitor bank statements, credit card statements and any other statements relating to recent financial transactions.

“I’m just being real cautious about my information,” said Pardy, who says he was careful about giving out his information even before the theft occurred.

Further steps include checking your credit report for signs of fraud.

However, veterans are cautioned not to overreact.

“Checking your credit too frequently can actually hurt your credit score,” said Self.

Measures to improve veterans’ information security are beginning to emerge. The VA is working with the President’s Identity Theft Task Force, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this data breach and to develop safeguards against similar incidents.

Though the stolen information may be in the wrong hands, so far those responsible for the theft have not used it to steal identities or money.

For local veterans who wonder if they are among the millions at risk, the VA will send out individual notification letters. Information in the letter will outline steps the individual can take and who to contact.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has established a dedicated toll free telephone number at 1-800-FED-INFO for questions or concerns connected with this loss of data. You can also visit their Web site at www.firstgov.gov for updates.

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