May 23, 2006
The personal data of millions of veterans has been stolen in what could be one of the biggest identity breaches in U.S. history. Twenty-six million veterans information could be in the wrong hands.
Names, birth dates and social security numbers that were stored on a computer disk were stolen from a Veterans Affairs employee's home. Now two weeks later, the government is sending out a warning to millions of veterans that their identities may have been stolen.
Earlier this month, a Veterans Affairs employee took disks containing personal information to his home in Maryland to work on a project. Shortly after, his house was burglarized and the disks were stolen.
The employee has been put on leave for taking information home without permission. Authorities said the thieves may not realize the magnitude of what they have stolen. But that doesn't make local veteran A.B. Brown feel any better.
"It's very concerning," said Brown.
There isn't much veterans can do to prevent it. They are being advised to carefully monitor their credit. However, Brown said that's a lot of time he'll have to spend protecting his credit.
"Then you have to stay on top of it all the time. It's just a lot of commitment on a personal basis and I'm not so sure anybody can really afford all that," said Brown.
It can take months, if not years, to recover from the damage done by this type of identity theft.
Officials don't believe anyone's information has been used as of yet, but that doesn't mean it won't be used in the future.
"They don't know what has happened yet, for sure," Brown said.
If the thieves using veteran's information are caught they will face federal prosecutors that stick to a "zero tolerance" policy.
Government officials said they did not immediately announce the theft because they had hoped to catch the crooks and they did not want to tip them off about what they had stolen for fear they would sell it.
So far, government officials said there is no indication that the stolen information has been misused.
The VA sent a letter to veterans informing them of the stolen data. Anyone with questions can contact the agency at 1-800-333-4636.