Military Victims’ Paychecks: A Prime Target for Online Identity Theft

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Army Captain Stephen Redmon spent a year serving his country in Iraq. But it wasn’t until the 29-year-old artillery officer returned home that he fell victim to an unseen enemy that turned his life upside down. This fall, Capt. Redmon and three other soldiers in Fort Bragg, North Carolina had their paychecks stolen by online identity thieves.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, four days before Capt. Redmon’s paycheck was scheduled to hit his bank account, he checked his online earnings statement on myPay, the military payroll agency’s website. When the young officer noticed that his check was scheduled to be deposited in an account that wasn’t his own, he alerted the government.

But even with four days’ warning, the funds couldn’t be recalled. Capt. Redmon and his wife Julie watched in horror as his paycheck was rerouted to the other bank, where it was captured on a bank-issued prepaid debit card and quickly withdrawn.

Military Account Takeovers by Cybercriminals Leave Few Clues

An investigator told the army captain that someone had committed the crime by signing on to his myPay account using his login and password. Even though other Fort Bragg soldiers had their paychecks stolen online, investigators asked the Redmons questions which implied the couple might be responsible for the crime.

Capt. Redmon told the Tampa Bay Times his home computer had security and anti-malware software. But he said he also used a Fort Bragg Library computer and his cell phone to access his myPay account. And last fall, a phishing email with the logo of the defense payroll agency was sent to army personnel. Account login information can be stolen both ways online – over public Wifi networks and by malware downloaded from phishing email that records computer keystrokes.

After Captain Redmon’s paycheck was stolen, he and his wife Julie were forced to use their savings and short-term military loans to make ends meet. It took almost 11 weeks for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to decide the Redmons weren’t liable for the stolen funds. This month, DFAS paid the army captain the paycheck he’d lost to an identity thief, according to The Fayetteville Observer.

But investigators still don’t know who took the money.

While the Redmons are happy to have their money returned, they’re concerned that if someone accesses their account again, they’d have no way to stop it.

Identity Theft is the Top Consumer Complaint in the Military

Only 1% of the 6.6 million people on the defense payroll receive paper checks.

That means the vast majority of those who serve our country could be at risk for the kind of online identity theft that victimized Capt. Redmon. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network, identity theft accounted for 27% of the complaints it received from military personnel in 2011. What’s more, experts say it’s no coincidence that Florida, Georgia, Texas and California – four states with the highest per capita rate of identity theft – are also states with the largest active duty military population.

Military personnel overseas are even easier targets for identity theft. That’s because they’re often deployed for long periods of time. And they often enter more confidential information online to manage their financial affairs. When their accounts are compromised, it can be extremely difficult to spot unauthorized financial transactions and take action. Imagine returning from a tour of duty and discovering your credit has been destroyed by an identity thief.

If you’re in the military, it’s important to remember that your online privacy isn’t just a matter of personal security. In the age of cyberattacks and cyberwarfare, it’s a matter of national security. Follow the Federal Trade Commission’s advice to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft while you’re serving your country.

And make sure you use a virtual private network like PRIVATE WiFi™ to protect your identity. VPNs encrypt the information travelling to and from your laptop. That means you’ll be off hackers’ radar whenever you’re online.

 

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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.