The internet is a powerful tool for veterans. It allows them to keep up with friends, access their benefits and shop. Unfortunately, former Service members are more likely than civilians to be targeted by online scammers while doing these things. Veterans are twice as likely to lose money to fraud because of identity theft; phishing; impostor scams; and investment, loan or donation deceptions.

Many of these scammers target veterans to alter or access their government-provided aid, swindling them out of the money or benefits they have earned. This is a widespread issue. Nearly 80% of veterans say they have been targeted by scams due to their service, according to an AARP survey. These scams are diverse and range from phishing attempts to solicitations for fraudulent, veteran-focused charities.

“Help the Vets” is one example of a fraudulent charity targeting veterans. It claimed to fund medical care and mental health services for veterans. An investigation found that “Help the Vets” spent 95% of donations on administrative costs and compensation for its founder. Just 5% of proceeds were actually used to benefit veterans.

Scammers and identity thieves also target financially stressed veterans with promising investment opportunities. Recently, a man defrauded about 2,600 people, including many pension-holding veterans, in a Ponzi scheme. The investor told the pension holders to make monthly payments and disguised them as cash flows.

Identity thieves have developed low- and high-tech ways to steal veterans’ data, like shoulder surfing and skimming. Shoulder surfing requires that someone physically look over your shoulder to steal your password, PIN or credit card number. Skimming uses a device that fits onto regular credit card machines, allowing scammers to steal the card information.

How to protect your information

Use unique passwords for online accounts. Re-using passwords increases the risk of cyber theft.

Use multi-factor authentication, which combines more than one authenticator type, based on information users know and information users get. It also adds another level of security when veterans log in to access and manage VA services and benefits.

Identity theft prevention

The VA stopped using Social Security numbers in its business processes and gives free credit monitoring to veterans and beneficiaries whose data was compromised by a VA breach. Veterans or beneficiaries of identity theft not caused by a VA breach can contact the toll-free Identity Theft Help Line, 855-578-5492, weekdays, 8 a.m.-8 p.m., ET.

Veterans can find additional information on protecting their identity at va.gov/identitytheft.