May is National Military Appreciation Month, a celebration of the American heroes and military families who have made great sacrifices to protect our civil liberties. In return, we must do more to protect them — not only from enemy fire or foreign threats to our democracy, but from the hundreds of thousands of fraud and identity theft cases they report every year.
According to the FBI, Americans lost $10.3 billion to fraud in 2022, a nearly 50% increase since 2021. Unfortunately, active duty service members, veterans and their families are disproportionately affected by these crimes, which cost them $414 million in 2022. With cyber crime being the fastest growing crime in America, there are no signs of a slowdown.
For service members, the consequences of fraud extend beyond financial ruin or damage to mental health. They can put a military career in jeopardy, compromising security clearances that often depend on strong credit histories.
Military families’ higher-than-average vulnerability to digital crime can be attributed to the nature of military life. Frequent changes of station risk important records being sent to old addresses. Deployment and boot camps limit account and credit monitoring abilities. Communal WiFi used on bases can mean less secure transfers of information. The Office of Personnel Management, or OPM, 2015 data breach leaked the sensitive personal information of 20 million former, current and prospective federal employees — including many military personnel.
As military quality of life declines and enlistment rates slow, a hero’s choice to dedicate his or her life to protecting our country should not come with the burden of digital danger. While some effort has been made to address this community’s vulnerability to cyber threats, recent years’ rate of increase indicates that more must be done.
So how can we — the private sector, military advocacy groups and the federal government — work together to better protect all service members and their families from cyber crime?
1. Expand protection mandates.
In March, Representatives Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Andy Kim, D-N.J., reintroduced the bipartisan Servicemember Credit Monitoring Enhancement Act, which would expand the Fair Credit Reporting Act-mandated active duty credit monitoring services to National Guard and Reserves, as well.
In April, Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Kevin Kramer, R-N.D., introduced a Senate version of the bill, which further expands credit monitoring for military spouses and dependents. While credit monitoring is just one piece of this issue, we believe this bill is a strong step in the right direction, and together, we urge Congress to pass it. The disproportionate impact of digital crime and financial fraud on the military community is broad and does not discriminate between active duty, retired or reserve service members.
We also applaud Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., for his action around this issue, especially his introduction of the Military Consumer Protection Task Force Act of 2023, which would combat fraud targeting military families through a joint task force led by secretaries of defense and Veterans Affairs in collaboration with public and private stakeholders. This is exactly the type of collaborative effort that could start to reverse cybercrime’s impact on military families.
Private sector leaders should take action to support those making military family online safety a priority, whether through funding, lobbying efforts, statements of support or by fostering open dialogues around practical solutions.
We also must ensure that existing solutions are working as intended — a recent CFPB investigation found many service members are being charged for the free credit monitoring services to which they are legally entitled.
2. Invest in family online safety education for national security.
Understandably, Department of Defense cybersecurity efforts have largely focused on the enterprise. After all, it blocks billions of attacks every day. Few understand the importance of employee-level digital security in favor of the larger enterprise better than the private sector. Stanford University and IBM estimate that 88-95% of breaches are caused by individual employee actions.
The private sector — through funding, expertise and resource allocation — and nonprofits — by advocating within their networks — can collaboratively support an educational experience that empowers every level of the military with knowledge of risk factors, prevention methods and modern technology to protect both national security and families’ digital and financial wellbeing.
3. Empower with modern, innovative tools.
Online safety solutions have modernized since the passing of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and military-focused amendments. Today’s tools give families greater control. Some allow delegation to a veteran’s caregiver or a spouse when a service member is deployed. They go beyond credit monitoring to enable safe browsing, manage passwords, offer instant credit locking, prevent spam (and scam) calling and protect children’s online safety.
This Military Appreciation Month and beyond, we’re asking the private sector, nonprofit advocates and the federal government to work together on enhanced digital protections for those who safeguard our freedoms everyday — to offer American heroes and their families the same peace of mind they afford all of us, here at home.
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