OKLAHOMA CITY - Jeff Messer had a question about his disability check, so he called one of the VA’s toll-free numbers to get more information.
A recording picked up and asked him to put in his social security number, and birthdate, which he did.
Moments later, he says a second, random recording interrupted his call, announcing he was the lucky winner of a $100 gift card.
“I was like, ‘Oh, no way!’”
Jeff believes a hacker could have intercepted his call to the VA while he was on hold.
After the hang-up, he called right back, and this time he says a live person picked up.
He claims that the person was posing as a VA benefits specialist.
“And he said, ‘The computers are down, so everyone who is calling is getting this gift certificate,’” Jeff recalled. “He said, ‘You need to pay $4.95 to activate [the card].'”
The In Your Corner team alerted the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Michael Radonski, Director of the Oklahoma City Vet Center, a community-based counseling program that provides mental health therapies and other important outreach services to combat veterans and their families.
Radonski says if you're calling Veterans Affairs about your benefits, there is no $100 gift card or free trip, so just hang up.
He told the In Your Corner team, “We are aware of it, and that is something we tell our vets about all the time, beware of scams.”
The VA will never initiate a phone call asking a veteran for their personal information, however, when a vet does the initiating with the VA there is a chance the agency will ask for personal information over the phone.
We checked. Their recording does, in fact, prompt vets to prove their identity over the phone by entering “the veteran's 9-digit social security number.”
We know there is always a risk when sharing your personal information over the phone.
Jeff believes his phone call to the VA may have been compromised, but so far the VA has offered no confirmation that a hacker intercepted his call and no explanation about the fraudulent offer.
A VA spokesperson told the In Your Corner team they take "fraud allegations and the security of veteran's information seriously,” and "since 2015, just .06181 of the VA’s active benefits accounts have been accessed fraudulently."
Thanks to Jeff's willingness to share his story, the VA is investigating this type of scam and veterans across the country are heeding his warning.
“That's pretty cool,” Jeff said. “That's what I wanted to happen.”
If you suspect you've been targeted, get a hold of your bank or credit card company ASAP.
Not every VA customer service hotline requires the full social.
Some just ask for the last 4 digits.
Because of our story, the VA agreed to take another look at their policy, but we’re told every security measure they have in place is to keep veterans and their personal information safe.