Online scams targeting veterans, military. Here’s what you need to know.

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Rather than honoring the sacrifices made by active duty military personnel, veterans and their families, cybercriminals are increasingly targeting them.

Seven in 10 active-duty military and military veterans have been victims of at least one digital crime, according to a recent survey by consumer cybersecurity firm Aura, in conjunction with Ipsos, to be released November 11, Alumni Day. fighters.

Data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) supports these conclusions. Veterans, active duty military personnel and their families are at “higher risk” of fraud and identity theft than other American adults.

The FTC says $267 million in total losses among the military community were reported in 2021, up 118% from $122 million in 2020.

As AARP reported, individual victims within the military community reported losing more money than their civilian counterparts, with a median loss of $600, compared to $500 for civilians.

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Veterans are more concerned about digital crime than “traditional” crimes, such as assaults and home invasions, Aura found.

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“I am not surprised but dismayed to see fraudsters see men and women, who choose to put their lives on the line to serve and fight for the freedoms of others, as targets,” says Theresa Payton, renowned expert in cybersecurity who served as the first female White House Chief Information Officer (2006-08), and CEO and founder of Fortalice Solutions, a cybersecurity operations and business intelligence company.

“Fraudsters read the news and know which units are deployed and taking advantage of it, often going into past troves of data breaches, searching military personnel email accounts, and so they can customize the target for the individual and/or their families,” Payton added, in a phone interview with USA TODAY.

In addition to being the “proud wife of a U.S. Navy veteran,” Payton, who also starred in the reality TV series “Hunted,” says she is the daughter and granddaughter of veterans who served in the Marine Corps, one of the reasons she volunteers her time. , and books, while speaking at military bases.

Hari Ravichandran, founder and CEO of Aura, echoes Payton’s remarks.

“There are a few key reasons why veterans and active duty members are at higher risk of cybercrime and identity theft, including: [fraudsters’] access to government information and military benefits, difficulty monitoring accounts while deployed, frequent moves, and publicized data breaches that exposed their personal information,” Ravichandran said.

“But it’s a problem that affects all Americans. Nearly seven billion dollars were lost by Americans to digital crime in 2021, and that number is only expected to grow,” Ravichandran adds, in an interview. via email with USA TODAY.

How to fight cybercrime? A few “call to action” suggestions for veterans, active military personnel and their families.

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be skeptical

Whether it’s an email, text or phone call, beware of anyone asking for anything, often with a sense of urgency.

“Usually the red flag is something you need to do immediately, like click on a link, or something bad will happen,” Payton says. “Banks and credit unions will never contact you and say ‘if you don’t, you’ll lose all your money’.”

If in doubt, contact the institution from a phone number you already have – not the one provided in the message you received.

“Be on the lookout for anyone claiming to be from the VA or other government agencies,” Ravichandran adds. “Government agencies of all kinds will never threaten you or pressure you to send information or money.”

“Especially be wary of phone calls,” Ravichandran continues, “because the government usually won’t call unless you ask them to.”

Be on the lookout for anyone claiming to be from the VA or other government agencies," says Hari Ravichandran, Founder and CEO of Aura. "Government agencies of all kinds will never threaten you or force you to send information or money."

Spread the word about these cyber risks to those most vulnerable, such as elderly family members or friends, or those who are not tech savvy.

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Freeze credit or set up alerts

While it can be annoying to freeze credit, it’s a great way to prevent cybercriminals from opening credit cards, taking out mortgages, or other loans in your name.

Although credit freezes do not prevent attackers from stealing your identity, they do prevent the criminal from using it to access and steal credit.

“Even if you’re on a short-term assignment, like a two-week training assignment, and don’t want to go on a permanent freeze, you can contact your bank or credit union and credit card companies, credit bureaus and request an active duty alert,” suggests Payton.

An active duty alert is free and lasts for one year, and the service member’s name is removed from pre-selected credit card or insurance offers for two years.

Email and Password Tips to Stop Fraud

“The email accounts you use on social media should not be the same ones you have linked to your bank accounts, health information, or any confidential conversations you may have, such as correspondence with the stranger,” insists Payton.

This is because these publicly accessible email accounts can be easily taken over using free marketing tools and then used to target you and your loved ones by cyber criminals.

Payton suggests using an encrypted messaging platform like Proton Mail, a “privacy first” solution, and says the same advice applies to your phone number: use a separate number for personal use than for everything related to finance.

You can get a free secondary phone number on your existing smartphone from TextNow, Google Voice, or Talkatone.

Use complex and different passwords for each of your online accounts. A secure password uses multiple numbers and a mix of upper and lower case letters, as well as special characters (such as &, $, and *). Do not use your child’s or pet’s name, hometown, or date of birth.

Opt for “multi-factor authentication”, meaning you not only need a password or passcode (or a biometric login, like a fingerprint or face scan) to confirm that this is you with the online accounts, but also a one-time code that you will receive on your mobile phone to type.

Finally, install good cybersecurity software, which includes a VPN (virtual private network), to hide your online withdrawal and ensure it’s always up to date.

Just as you wouldn’t leave the front door of your home unlocked, you shouldn’t leave your devices and data vulnerable to attack, whether it’s a virus or other malicious software. “) that sneaks onto your device or caused by being tricked into disclosing sensitive information.

“If you know or suspect that you or your family has been the victim of a data breach, take it seriously,” says Ravichandran. “Look at what information has been hacked, whether it’s your password, credit card information, or social security number, and once you know what information might be at risk, take steps to fix it, like changing your passwords or updating your financial information, which Aura can guide you.”

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