VA Warning on Increased Benefit Redirection Scams
The Department of Veterans Affairs is warning against rising numbers associated with a type of veteran benefits scam called “payment redirection fraud.”
Due to increased volume in VA claims, a higher profile for those claims thanks to headlines about the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act), and other factors, VA.gov notes, “…more Veterans are getting more benefits than ever before, and that’s why it’s important to stay on high alert for criminals who want to take advantage of you.”
What do you need to know about payment redirection fraud? It involves a third party impersonating someone else to illegally divert VA benefit payments to accounts not authorized to receive them. But how does it work?
Related: Military Money 101
How Payment Redirection Fraud Works
- When you enter your personal information into the VA healthcare system, you’re asked to provide bank account numbers and bank routing numbers so you can be paid VA benefits via Direct Deposit.
- If a third party gets your data, they can try to change the bank account and routing information to redirect those payments to their own accounts or anywhere else not intended by the original legal account owner.
- According to VA.gov, “Once the information is compromised, the scammer redirects the victim’s VA benefits payments to accounts or prepaid debit cards the scammer controls.”
- A scammer may try to get you to volunteer your personal data by asking questions on social media chat or via direct message, they may call you pretending to be an official or authority demanding the information, or a scammer may try to trick you into clicking on a link that compromises your phone or computer.
How Hackers Gather Private Data
How do scammers get this information? Typically, if they haven’t tried any of the means listed above, they may use what are known as phishing attempts. You may get emails, text messages, or social media contacts asking you to “verify” information, modify it or navigate to a third-party website designed to harvest your private data.
Add to that the ability to scrape or scavenge information you have already made available on social media (your name, location, where you went to school, your mother’s maiden name, where you served, etc.), and you have a recipe for disaster where benefits fraud is concerned.
VA.gov warns that, with enough scraped or harvested personal data, a third party can dial the National Contact Center to “change Veterans’ bank accounts to redirect their payments.”
The VA also warns that by using stolen passwords and other information, hackers and thieves can access more personal data through sites like VA.gov.
What To Do About VA Benefits Fraud
Do you suspect your private data has been compromised? Do you suspect someone is using your identity without your permission? Report any identity theft issues to the FBI, local law enforcement, and major credit bureaus. You should also report it to the Veteran Benefits Administration (VBA).
According to VAgov, when you report an incident to VBA, they assign your case to a team that investigates by taking the following steps:
- Determining how to protect the Veteran’s benefits.
- Reporting the perpetrators of the alleged fraud.
- “Immediately reinstating the Veteran’s benefits.”
Protect Yourself From Scams
How can you protect yourself against benefits fraud? Aside from the obvious (not sharing personal data with third parties), you should also avoid signing blank forms and do not give out personal data via text messaging.
Don’t give passwords or PINs to anyone else or transfer your VA benefits to another person’s bank account other than your own, a court-appointed fiduciary or a VA-appointed equivalent.
Only respond to people who have contacted you about personal or bank information via email, phone calls, or text if you started that contact. The same applies to communications via social media, regular mail, or other means.
If you suspect a scam or have been the victim of fraud, visit the Department of Justice’s fraud webpage and report it.
About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.