VVA sues Pentagon for website

| August 12, 2017 | 22 Comments

AnotherPat sends us a link to the Miami Herald that reports the Vietnam Veterans of America is suing the Pentagon for their Servicemember Civil Relief Act website complaining that scammers are using the website to gather “private details” of military veterans they can use to gain your confidence and phish for other personally identifying information.

Thomas Barden, a veteran of the Vietnam War who served in the U.S. Air Force for 21 years, found that out firsthand.

The plaintiff in the suit received a call from someone supposedly affiliated with Microsoft in March 2016. Since the caller knew all kinds of personal details about Barden’s military service, Barden thought he was authorized by the government. The scammer convinced him his computer was at risk, and sold him firewall software to protect it. Nine months later, the scammer gained remote access to the computer, locked him out, and threatened to hold his files for ransom unless he paid up.

Worried about data theft, Barden broke the hard drive into pieces and was so concerned about his privacy that he threw them into different trash cans over several days. Since then, he has continued to receive harassing phone calls from the same scammers, causing him “significant anxiety and stress,” according to the lawsuit.

First of all if the government wants something from you, they don’t call you on the phone – they send you a letter. Secondly, most Vietnam veterans aren’t even in the system – only if they had service after 1985. You can click on the link and see for yourself if you’re in the system. You’ll need a complete name, a birthday and dates of service after 1985. The only “private details” information you’ll get from an inquiry is time you spent on active duty and the branch of service – hardly startling information.

Here’s the screen where I entered my information;

And the resulting “private details”;

BFD. Big Whoop. Now you know that I served in the Army for 19 years. I think that’s common knowledge.

“Veterans are disproportionately targeted by scammers and identity thieves,” Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan said in a statement.

The Pentagon “is fueling the problem by leaving veterans’ private information easily accessible on the internet (and) has refused to properly secure veterans’ information,” he said. “We are asking a court to order them to do so.”

That’s just ridiculous. We use the website to check on people whose records we get back from the NPRC as “no records available” – we’ve saved ourselves some embarrassment more than a few times.

The bigger problem the VVA should be addressing is Veterans Affairs employees who release PII to unauthorized people. I’ve had that happen more than once. There’s a certain radio show host who had one of his guests get in my VA records and he thinks it’s funny to broadcast my social security number on his radio program – the VA OIG is working on that one.

But this bluster about the SCRA website is a tempest in a teapot. The VVA would do better clearing out the pretenders among their membership.

Category: Veterans Issues

Comments (22)

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  1. Ex-PH2 says:

    I used to get their stuff until I told them I was in the WAVES and they should have known it was unlikely that I’d ever have been in country. They stopped bothering me after that.
    Now I get phishing phone calls, including that robocall fake IRS scam, which I got tired of reporting because they keep changing the number.
    There’s also the notice from funeral homes that I have less than 6 months to take advantage of their offer, which I like to return to them with a note that expect to live to be 120.
    There’s a scam a minute, if you really think about it.

    • Twist says:

      I get scam calls from Jamaica all the time. Without fail, 10 minutes after I get my call my wife gets hers and then my daughter gets hers and then my son gets his. All of our phone numbers are the exact same except for the last digit. Mine is 1, my wife’s is 2, my daughter’s is 3 and my son’s is 4. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out what they are doing.

    • 26Limabeans says:

      “Now I get phishing phone calls, including that robocall fake IRS scam, which I got tired of reporting because they keep changing the number”

      A few years ago I physically removed the ringer from my desk phone, Haven’t received an unwanted call since.

    • desert says:

      All of these ripoff outfits are calling using different numbers now! I have a block on my phone and block them as soon as they call,but I continue to get calls from them, only on different numbers, how in hell do they get away with that? Some are insurance, maybe mostly insurance, one on my vehicle has called for the past 6 years, the other is health insurance…do these moronic bastards really think they can do this stuff and we are stupid enough to do business with them? THEY ARE NUTS!

  2. HMCS(FMF) ret says:

    “The VVA would do better clearing out the pretenders among their membership.”

    Amen on that statement, Jonn!

  3. Toasty Coastie says:

    need to go on youtube and find one of those genius kids who hack back into the scammers and set them loose on this lol….Just for your entertainment, I’ll leave this here because it can be done… just need some computer know how which I do not possess lol

    • desert says:

      Pakistani PUKES!! if one of those pukes get on my phone, they are immediately blocked, if its a so called legitimate company, which I doubt, because they wouldn’t use those pakistani pukes, I tell them, put an American on the line, I can’t understand a word you are saying, pisses them off, but better to be pissed off than on! 😉

  4. Jeff LPH 3, 63-66 says:

    Got an email from a person that I know who said that right now he is in a hotel in London and someone stole his credit card currency and Passport and if I could wire him some moola schmoola. I called his house up in central Florida and asked him about the London weather. He told me that he was aware of the situation. Florida has a lot of this stuff going on and a lot of Seniors fall for it.

  5. Hondo says:

    Ya know, I’d really like to know how the VVA was able to convince any reputable and competent lawyer to file a suit on their behalf. Because under the Freedom of Information Act, the following information is public record info and can be released to the public without the consent of the veteran:

    – Name
    – Service/Serial Number (NOT the SSN – this was used prior to and during most of Vietnam)
    – Dates of Service
    – Branch of Service
    – Final Duty Status
    – Final Rank
    – Salary*
    – Assignments and Geographical Locations
    – Source of Commission*
    – Military Education Level
    – Promotion Sequence Number*
    – Awards and decorations (eligibility only, not actual medals)
    – Photograph
    – Transcript of Courts-Martial Trials
    – Place of entrance and separation

    (Items marked with an asterisk [*] are not usually available.)

    I don’t see anything over and above the info above that’s released on replies from the SCRA web site. So I really would be interested in knowing how any reputable lawyer would claim, with a straight face, that the SCRA website somehow “assists scammers”. It merely releases information that’s public record and available to anyone for the asking.

    • MSGT Richard Deiters USMC(Ret) says:

      the Salary value can be found as part of the military money allocations Law by Congress each time they pass a budget. It is in the form of the Pay table(s). The Military Times Publishers never have a problem finding the pay scale tables. Knowing a persons rank and when they served would allow you to figure out what their salary amount would be each month. This would not take into account any extra pay for jump status/flight pay/dive pay/retention bonus(if any) for medical professionals, etc…

      • Hondo says:

        There’s a problem with that scenario.

        By policy, only the individual’s final rank is typically among the information allowable for release. Other past ranks and dates of rank technically are not – though on occasion they are released by accident or other info released in response to a FOIA inquiry allows them to be deduced.

        Without knowing those intervening ranks and dates of promotion, determining anything but the individual’s final salary is problematic.

        Case in point: individual serves a number of years enlisted, then goes to OCS and is commissioned. He/she then gets RIFed several years later, but has enough enlisted time before commissioning to have the option to revert to enlisted status and continue service. They opt to do so, and retire at 20 as an E7. That happened fairly often after Vietnam; I knew one such guy. Good guy, and the best I could tell was a good officer; just the classic “wrong place/wrong time/odd-man-out” scenario. The Army cut a lot of good officers after Vietnam due to personnel strength cutbacks.

        A FOIA inquiry made during the 10 years after that individual’s retirement would almost certainly show their final rank as E7 – and you’d have to know their history (or deduce from the rest of the record) to determine that they’d ever previously been an officer.

        Since an individual in that status (reduced in grade/rank through no fault of their own) is supposed to be advanced at 30 years to the highest grade successfully held, presumably a FOIA submitted after they’d passed 30 years might show their rank as CPT. Dunno – I’ve never seen a FOIA reply where I knew enough of the “backstory” to tell for sure whether a FOIA would reflect such a post-retirement reinstatement in rank.

        Another case would be two guys I knew personally. One was an E7 in Korea – and got busted, and court-martialed, for black-marketing. He didn’t get a DD or BCD, and had enough time to retire – but the GCM reduced him to E3. He retired as an E3. A FOIA inquiry on him would show him as an E3, retired with 20+ years of service.

        The other was an E8 in Korea who did the same – and left Korea as an E6 for the same reason (GCM conviction and reduction in rank). The two knew each other, but the E7 was involved far more deeply. As I recall, the E8 “did the deed” regarding black marketing high-end items once; the E7, repeatedly. That was 30+ years ago, so I might have some of the details wrong – but I think I’m remembering all of that correctly.

        Since both were under the older “final pay” system for retired pay, that certainly left a mark. And it was self-inflicted.

        Bottom line: you can make educated guesses regarding an individual’s salary based on a FOIA reply and assumptions about their rank progression, but they may or may not be accurate. Only the final rank is by policy released in a FOIA reply. All ranks held, and dates of promotion/demotion, typically are not.

  6. Sgt Fon says:

    I had to my follow up physical for the VA at west Point and had some dope email me the COMPLETE records of his next appointment. when i called and told him about it he just laughed and said it was a good thing i am a nice guy. . after i was done getting my head shrunk, i stopped in to the IG’s office and gave them the information, the SFC was shocked, but not surprised. he said it happens a lot more often then it should and was happy that so many former military members come to report it. he says nothing ever happens to the VA guy for some reason…

  7. Dave Hardin says:

    It is a good thing they XX’d out what day you were born. Someone might use that information to find out who you really are.

    It takes a Private Investigator about 5 minutes to find out if someone paid their water bill.

    I have been using this Dave Hardin guy’s info for years, I only use Jonn’s ID to register at Midget Porn sites.

  8. Duane says:

    After having my information compromised the 3rd time at the federal level, I’ve gotten really good with the “who gives a shit” attitude. I know that if someone wants to, they can find out a whole lot about me and my military service, and there’s really not a whole lot I can do about it. They think that this is really going to make a difference in this modern age of computer files and searches? Sigh….

  9. Deplorable B Woodman says:

    Seriously? The VVA wants Teh Gooberment to SOLVE the problem? Sorry, dudes and dudettes, The Gooberment IS the problem.

  10. HMC Ret says:

    The feds have released my PII so often that I’ve had free ID protection for years. I say ‘free’ but the gov is paying for it which means I’m paying for it. My current plan expires around the end of 2018 so I’m sure I’ll be able to extend it when the gov again releases my PII around mid-2018. Anyway, I’ve got a freeze on my info at the three biggie credit reporting bureaus. No one can get a loan or open an account b/c of this freeze. People still try, though, b/c I get calls from a bureau every so often asking if it’s me trying to get a CC or buy a car.

  11. AnotherPat says:

    Thomas Barden, the Plaintiff in the lawsuit is MSgt Thomas J. Barden, United States Air Force from Buffalo/Clarence, New York.

    It took me less than 10 minutes to find information on him on the Internet.

    He posted information about himself on Together We Served to include his time in service, his MOS, the units he was with, etc. etc.

    https://airforce.togetherweserved.com/usaf/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=Person&ID=161674

    He served from 1968-1989, 21 years (I have the exact dates, but left them out).

    It was easy finding his DOB on the Internet. I even found his address and phone number.

    Gee…wonder how the caller from “Microsoft” knew all kinds of personal details about his military service?

    And surprise! He even has his picture posted on WIVB, Buffalo, NY!

    http://interactives.wivb.com/photomojo/gallery/15168/281594/wny-thanks-heroes-on-veterans-day/air-force-master-sgt.-tom-barden/

    And now he is suing the Pentagon for this and thinks the Scammers got his information from the SCRA website?

    Seriously doubt VVA or Barden will win their case. IMO, Barden did it to himself.

    What next…will he be suing Nigeria for scamming him out of his savings?

  12. Perry Gaskill says:

    It’s always seemed to me the person most responsible for the casual online sharing of private personal information was Scott McNealy at Sun Microsystems who said in 1999, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

    It was a bullshit thing to say then. It’s bullshit now.

    Anybody who has worked with databases knows it’s relatively trivial to fold together information from an array of sources by manipulating field types, their order, and import parameters, for example.

    What’s remarkable is how willing people are to put up with it. In such a pervasive and intrusive climate, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a backlash in the form of false data. Sort of like how back in the day, they would send you a computer punch card with a “Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate” warning, and some people would let their dog gnaw on the thing for awhile before sending it back.

    On the other hand, I don’t have a particular problem with the NPRC releasing DD-214 data. It seems limited to a certain justified scope and function.

  13. jonp says:

    Ha! With just that modicum of information I have transferred John’s entire fortune to my offshore account on The Isle of Man. See ya, losers!

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