Companies Verifying Eligibility Pose Privacy and Security Risks to Veterans Seeking Memorial Day Discounts
Blumenthal Urges Recognition of Service Cards Because Veterans Suffer Identity Theft at Twice the Rate of General Public
Blumenthal Amendment Authorizing Department of Defense to Issue Recognition of Service Cards Accepted in National Defense Authorization Act Draft
(Washington, DC) – Today, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, released a comprehensive report supporting his call for the Department of Defense (DoD) to issue Recognition of Service cards to veterans and military members separating from the Armed Forces. The report, titled Military and Veterans Discounts: Honoring all who served or a privacy and security risk?, reveals that companies hired by retailers often verify a customer’s military service and engage in practices that put veterans and servicemembers at risk for identity theft or other kinds of fraud and abuse.
Blumenthal said, “These reforms will save veterans from identity theft and fraud when retailers offer discounts but demand sensitive personal information. A national recognition of service card will honor our heroes and save them from scammers. Retailers who commendably offer veterans discounts—especially around holidays—should not put them at risk in verifying their status. As Memorial Day approaches, the Department of Defense should support the report’s recommendations—and any legislation necessary, which I will offer. Our veterans and servicemembers need and deserve common sense protections so discounts don't become really bad deals.”
For this investigation, Blumenthal wrote to leading providers of military identity verification services—GovX, ID.me, SheerID, and Veterans Advantage—for detailed information regarding their verification methods and privacy and security safeguards. The complete formal correspondence is included in this report.
Many national retailers offer military or veterans’ special discounts on holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day. Unfortunately, there currently is no one simple, secure and safe way for veterans to prove their service. In the absence of a national veteran ID card, many well-meaning retailers instead request documents containing sensitive personal information to prove eligibility, such as DD214s, which contain Social Security numbers. Other retailers partner with third party identity verification services—private entities with varying levels of privacy safeguards or that are at a significant cost to consumers. Such practices may be one reason why military personnel and veterans suffer identity theft at twice the rate of the general public.
After hearing from many Connecticut veterans about their challenges proving their eligibility for discounts, Blumenthal launched this probe into the privacy and security safeguards of third party identity verification services. The report, released nationwide today, found many instances where veterans were required to provide sensitive personal information, including Social Security numbers, and documents containing Social Security numbers. None of the investigated companies provided a flawless solution for both protecting veterans and providing verification services to retailers.
In response to the many concerns expressed by Connecticut veterans, as well as to the findings within the report, Blumenthal proposed legislation – that was accepted as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 – that requires the Department of Defense issue “Recognition of Service” cards to veterans upon separation from service. These cards would provide veterans with an accurate and secure way to show others that they have served or are serving their country, without having to disclose sensitive, personal information or paying expensive yearly membership fees for basic verification services. Blumenthal’s report urges the DoD to issue cards to not just departing members of the military, but also retroactively to former military members.
The report makes the following recommendations:
· DoD should issue Recognition of Service cards to all military members separating from the Armed Forces. These cards should also be issued retroactively to military members who have already separated.
· DoD should commission a study to determine whether the benefits of keeping the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act website free and open to the public outweigh the potential risks to the safety and security of military consumers.
· DoD should continue its efforts to minimize the use of SSNs and personally identifiable information on DoD-issued documentation.
· Military identity verification companies should take proactive steps to make sure they do not receive — and that consumers do not share — any military identification that would be in violation of 18 U.S.C. §701, which prohibits duplicating ID cards administered by the federal government.
· Military identity verification companies should be more transparent with their retail partners about their military verification techniques. Military identity verification services should be provided free of charge and with no strings attached for military consumers.
· To better serve the veteran and military community as intended, retailers should revisit their proof of service requirements and reevaluate their military identity verification partners, to make sure verification is easy, free, safe, and secure for the military consumer. (e.g. Retailers should accept as proof of service DoD and VA-issued identification cards, DoD–VA eBenefits cards, and State issued identification cards that designate Veterans status.)