Hackers, unscrupulous lenders and fraudulent credit card companies are targeting veterans with misleading offers and outright scams. This is, of course, on top of the everyday fraud we read or hear about, including the recent theft of 21.5 million Social Security numbers belonging to federal employees. Read on to learn how veterans in particular can better protect themselves and family members from fraud.
Beware of Offers Targeting Veterans
While many organizations and businesses provide special discounts for veterans, take particular care with those that promise additional benefits. Here are a few cited by AARP’s Military Monday column:
- Some financial planners and insurance agents urge veterans to invest in programs that give them “additional benefits” like Aid and Attendance services. But this could disqualify them from other, more useful Medicaid programs. Older vets may unknowingly buy in to a long-term investment they may not live long enough to receive.
- Any organization can include the word “veteran” in its name, including supposed charities. Investigate a charity before you donate. Charitynavigator.org is a good resource for this.
- Hang up on any caller who claims to represent the VA. Like the IRS and Medicare, the VA only communicates through the mail. Mark emails purportedly from the VA as spam or phishing.
In addition to the resources above, check out the LifeLock website for more information on current and emerging scams and tips for safeguarding personal information.
Carry Only What You Need in Your Wallet or Purse
Remember that old credit card ad that asked “What’s in your wallet?” It’s a good question. What are you carrying around?
There is absolutely no need to carry every credit card you own. If you use credit cards to earn reward points, just carry one or two. You don’t need a Costanza-like wallet bulging out to force you to sit sideways.
Similarly, don’t carry your Social Security card. Lock it up in your home safe along with your extra credit cards. You can’t cancel a stolen Social Security card, and getting a number changed is a long and difficult process.
Don’t carry the following: a list of sensitive information (PINs, SSN, account numbers), copies of your birth certificate (or the actual form) and any banking information, including the blank check your parents advised you decades ago to keep in your wallet.
How to Store and Protect Your Information
It’s practically impossible to remember all the accounts, PINs and passwords you might use on a regular basis. Here’s an idea: Enter them in a note on your smartphone, and keep the phone locked. This way, you only need to remember one PIN that should, of course, be random and not associated with birthdays, anniversaries or addresses. Some people use their childhood phone numbers, which they can remember more easily than their own.
Also, invest in a password protection program. These programs are often free on desktops, and track your passwords for you. They alert you when it’s time to change one, or if you log on to a site that has the same password as another. Best of all, they create crazy new passwords for you, and automatically enter them when you visit a password-protected site.
The catch? You do have to remember a single PIN to get in the program.