FORT MYERS, Fla.- Call for Action helped a local veteran get his disability money returned, after hackers redirected his money.
On the first of every month, Frank Taylor’s disability compensation from the VA is directly deposited into his bank account. However, on Oct. 1 he never received the money. Call for Action discovered someone had hacked into Taylor’s VA account and created a fake online profile through the VA’s online system called eBenefits. The VA assured Taylor and Call for Action the bank account was corrected and he would receive his money Nov. 1. However, the day came and went and Taylor never received his money.
So, Call for Action checked in with Frank Taylor on Dec. 1 to see if his money was deposited. This time, he received it but Taylor said he is not confident his or any other veterans’ accounts are safe.
“The wire came through, the money showed in the account. Thank God it worked out this time,” Taylor said. “I’m disappointed there’s no protection…I assume this is happening and it’s rampant in the system. That there are veterans out there, men and women who are waiting for their compensation and won’t get it.”
FORT MYERS, Fla. – A veteran in Southwest Florida had his account through the VA hacked twice in a matter of two months.
Frank Taylor served in the Navy in Vietnam, but today sitting on his own couch talking to WINK News, he said he did not feel safe. Every month, Taylor has his disability compensation from U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs directly deposited into his bank account. On October 1 the money was never deposited. Taylor said he called the VA several times, before he was told his account had been hacked.
During one conversation, the representative asked Taylor to read back his personal information, and that was when he realized something was not right.
“I started to give her [the VA representative] my address and she said, ‘that’s not the address we have here, we have a different address.'” Taylor said. “She asked me for my bank account number, and I gave it to her. She said ‘that doesn’t match the records.'”
WINK News contacted the VA office in St. Petersburg and spoke to Suzanne Nunziata, the assistant director of the regional office. Nunziata said someone had setup an eBenefits account for Taylor, which is the VA’s online system veterans can use to monitor their information and benefits. Taylor had never setup an account himself.
“Initially there was a stop put on the eBenefits account…There was also a fraud alert placed on Mr. Taylor’s account, and what that requires then is that should anyone attempt to change his [Taylor’s] address or bank account information, that would have to be done now by Mr. Taylor.”
It is unclear where Frank Taylor’s personal information was compromised. However, WINK News talked to the chief information officer for the entire VA, Stan Lowe. Lowe said with the increase in data breaches at stores, there is going to be a jump in identity theft.
“We’ve been talking about this among our security staff for awhile….One of the things that we’re talking abut internally is how to enhance our reporting procedures in how to identify trends, to better spot this proactively because we’re not the only ones who are experiencing this,” Lowe said.
The biggest issue with the VA’s system is the eBenefits does not check a veteran’s information with their existing account, so there is no way to tell if there is a discrepancy between an account already registered through the VA and an account setup online.
“I never received any notification at all that there were changes made to my account. How could that happen?” Taylor asked.
“That’s one of the things we’re continually looking at…For an individual that is currently getting benefits that has never registered electronically before how do we crosswalk that more effectively to make sure…we can better prevent those types of activities,” Lowe explained.
Meanwhile, Nunziata and the VA assured Frank Taylor his eBenefits account had been deactivated October 17, so it would not be hacked again. However, November 1 came and Taylor again did not receive his money. We called Nunziata and found Taylor’s account had been hacked again. The VA has once again assured Taylor and WINK News this will not happen again on December 1, but Taylor is not confident.
“When I asked them what they’re going to do to make sure it doesn’t occur again, they had no explanation,” Taylor said.
Veterans are encouraged to visit VA’s Identity Theft webpage. To access, click here. If a Veteran believes his or her identity has been compromised, they may contact the VA Identity Safety Service staff through its toll-free Identity Theft help line at 1-855-578-5492 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.