By Joe Benton
May 23, 2006
In a failed effort to catch the people who stole 26 million veterans’ private and personal information, authorities waited almost three weeks before telling anyone about the theft.
The personal data fell into the hands of thieves May 3 after a burglary in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Federal investigators are characterizing the theft as a random act and not a targeted effort to steal information about the nation’s veterans.
The information was on a laptop and external drive stolen from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs computer analyst.
The government did not immediately announce the theft because officials had hoped to catch the burglars and did not want to tip them off about the value of the information they had stolen out of concern that they might then sell the computer information.
Investigators have now abandoned that strategy and have alerted the public and the millions of veterans whose personal information was stolen.
The computer disk contained the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of every living veteran from 1975 to the present. The missing data do not include health records or financial information, according to the VA.
The information would be extremely valuable to identity thieves operating Internet sites around the world where personal information is bought and sold.
The VA sent a letter to veterans informing them of the stolen data. Anyone with questions can contact the agency at (800) 333-4636 or through the federal government’s Web portal, http://www.firstgov.gov.