A New Nexus: War Vets, Illegal Aliens, Terrorists and Identity Theft
by Jim Kouri, CPP
A story that's being covered by newsrooms across the country has invigorated interest in the crime of identity theft and created fear for millions of war vets. According to the US Department of Veteran's Affairs, thieves stole sensitive and confidential personal information on 26.5 million US military veterans, including Social Security numbers and birth dates.
The government investigation revealed that the theft occurred after a Veterans Affairs employee improperly took the material home to "work on a project." The employee was victimized earlier this month, according to the FBI.
The information involved mainly those veterans who served and have been discharged since 1975, but data of some vets discharged before 1975 who submitted claims to the VA may have been included in the stolen data.
While the VA claims there is no evidence the thieves used the data for identity theft, they said they are continuing their investigation.
Veterans advocates expressed alarm over this latest case of identity theft. A spokeswoman for the American Legion took issue with the VA's lack of security of confidential information on military vets."In the information age, we're constantly told to protect our information," said Ramona Joyce, spokeswoman for the American Legion. "We would ask no less of the VA."
Identity theft involves "stealing" another person's personal identifying information, such as their Social Security number (SSN), date of birth, or mother's maiden name, and using that information to fraudulently establish credit, run up debt, or take over existing financial accounts.
Precise, statistical measurement of identity theft trends is difficult for several reasons. Federal law enforcement agencies lack information systems to track identity theft cases. Also, identity theft is almost always a component of one or more white-collar or financial crimes, such as bank fraud, credit card or access device fraud, or the use of counterfeit financial instruments.
Data sources, such as consumer complaints and hotline allegations, can be used as proxies for gauging the prevalence of identity theft. Law enforcement investigations and prosecutions of bank and credit card fraud also provide data. Some data on identity theft-related losses indicated increasing costs. Other data, such as staffing of the fraud departments of banks and consumer reporting agencies, presented a mixed or incomplete picture.
Identity theft can cause victims severe emotional and economic harm, including bounced checks, loan denials, and debt collection harassment. The federal criminal justice system incurs costs associated with investigations, prosecutions, incarceration, and community supervision.
Another pervasive category is the use of fraudulent identity documents by aliens to enter the United States illegally to obtain employment and other benefits. The prevalence of that type of identity theft appears to be growing. In addition, intelligence officers are concerned about use of fraudulent identity documents by terrorists who use them to conduct business in the United States.
Moreover, identity theft is not typically a stand-alone crime; rather identity theft is usually a component of one or more white-collar or financial crimes. According to Immigration officials, the use of fraudulent documents by aliens is extensive, with US inspectors intercepting tens of thousands of fraudulent documents at ports of entry in each of the last few years.
These documents were presented by aliens attempting to enter the United States to seek employment or obtain naturalization or permanent residency status. Federal investigations have shown that some aliens use fraudulent documents in connection with more serious illegal activities, such as narcotics trafficking and terrorism.
Efforts to combat identity fraud in its many forms likely will command continued attention for policymakers and law enforcement to include investigating and prosecuting perpetrators, as well as focusing on prevention measures to make key identification documents and information less susceptible to being counterfeited or otherwise used fraudulently.
One enormous problem for the securing Americans' identities is the fact that corporations sell their "consumer lists" to other companies. The information may include credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, etc. While the federal government attempts to tighten up security on their databases, there is little if any pressure for corporations to cease selling information on Americans to other entities. With the advent of the Internet, the security of personal data appears less likely unless corporate databases are subject to stringent controls.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.