Hacked in the Line of Duty: Online Identity Theft and Credit Fraud in the U. S. Military

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Imagine this: a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve training for a Mideast mission logs onto the Internet using his hotel’s wireless network. The same day, he notices an unauthorized $90 charge to his checking account. The settings for his computer applications have been changed to a foreign language. The details of his mission stored on his laptop have been compromised.

This scenario may sound like the plot of a Tom Clancy novel. But the reality is a far cry from fiction. It’s a consumer complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission about WiFi hacking in the military.

Why Military Personnel Are Targets for Online Identity Theft

The men and women who serve our country are prime targets for online identity theft and credit fraud – two of the fastest growing crimes in America. That’s because military personnel face greater challenges than civilian consumers trying to protect their identities: they are deployed away from home for long stretches of time; they have irregular work schedules; they move around a lot; and they often conduct their financial transactions online.

To make matters worse, in January of this year, the security firm Imperva reported that several military websites had been penetrated by a hacker. According to Imperva, administrative access to the U.S. Army and the National Guard websites was being sold in an underground hacker forum for less than $500. Personal identifying information from hacked military, government and educational websites was also being sold on the cyber black market for $20 per 1000 records.

Delayed Discovery of Identity Theft Can Be Costly

Military personnel who are victims of online identity theft and credit fraud may not find out that their financial information or Social Security numbers have been stolen until they hear from their credit card company or a debt collection agency. Sometimes that can take months or even years.

What’s more, for identity theft victims in the military, the consequences can be even more onerous than they are for civilian ID theft victims. A bad credit rating that doesn’t belong to them can jeopardize their security clearance and, along with it, the possibility for advancement.

The last thing you need to worry about when you’re on deployment is whether your identity is safe from hackers. Here’s what you can do to protect it.

How to Stay Out of Harm’s Way from Hackers

  • Make sure your firewall is turned on and your antivirus software is up to date. Perform virus and malware scans regularly.
  • Turn off the auto login option on your laptop to ensure you only log in to a wireless network when you’re ready; and when you do, it’s to one that you select.
  • Avoid entering sensitive information such as your log-ins, passwords and your Social Security number when you are connected to wifi hotspots or other unsecured wireless networks. Remember that email is fair game for hackers when you’re not on a secured connection.
  • Disable file sharing and your wireless network when you’re not using them.
  • Check your credit reports often at the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you are away from your active duty station, place an active duty alert on your credit report by contacting one of these agencies. This will help minimize the risk of identity theft while you are deployed.
  • Use a virtual private network like PRIVATE WiFi™ to ensure that traffic to and from your computer is sent through a secure tunnel invisible to hackers.

What to Do If You’re the Victim of Identity Theft

  • Report your identity theft to your chain of command and provide evidence of it to your legal assistance office.

If you became the victim of identity theft while on active duty, we’d like to hear your story. Drop us a line and tell us what happened to you.

 

 

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Jan Legnitto

Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private I blogs.