Letters Sent to Veterans at Risk of Data Theft

Letters from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have begun arriving in mailboxes for the 26.5 million veterans who were put at risk of identity theft when a laptop computer with their personal information was stolen in the beginning of May.

The letter states that the VA recently learned about the loss of veterans’ personal information after an employee’s computer that had the data was stolen from his home. It explains that the data contained identifying information including names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, spouses’ names and disability ratings. However, the letter does not include information about the recently disclosed fact that data on 2.2 million active-duty personnel was included in the stolen files.

The VA has alerted the appropriate law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the VA inspector general’s office, which have launched full-scale investigations.

It also states authorities believe it is unlikely the perpetrators targeted the computer because of its contents.

The letter advises caution and assures that the VA is taking all possible steps to protect and inform veterans. It also advises that no action by veterans is needed unless suspicious activity with personal information is occurring, and provides an accompanying FAQ sheet with steps and precautions for veterans to protect themselves.

Information solicitation, known as "phishing," is mentioned as well. Veterans should be aware of phone calls, e-mail and other communications claiming to be from the VA or other official sources asking for, or verifying, personal information. It clearly states that the VA, government agencies and other legitimate organizations will not contact veterans for that purpose.

The final paragraph of the letter is apologetic, reassuring that there is no current evidence that any information has been misused and the VA will keep veterans informed as developments happen.

Resources for veterans include:

VA website: http://www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo.shtml

VA toll-free number: 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636)

For more on VA developments, read Data Theft at the VA and Another Perspective on Information Security.

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By Paul Kerstein

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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