Identity theft scam diverts soldier's pay
Nov 02, 2012 (The Fayetteville Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Four days before payday, Army Capt. Stephen Redmon noticed online that his Sept. 14 check was going to be deposited in an unfamiliar bank account.
Redmon started making calls that day to try to stop the deposit and switch it back to his USAA account.
But the military's payroll agency -- Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or DFAS -- told him it was too late to stop the automated system.
Redmon's paycheck, all $3,290 of it, went to Bancorp Bank, one of the nation's largest issuers of prepaid debit cards. An attempt by the government to recall the money immediately after the deposit was rejected by Bancorp.
Redmon, who was stationed at Fort Bragg before moving to Fort Sill, Okla., in October, isn't alone.
Investigators are looking into three similar recent claims by Fort Bragg soldiers that their identities and paychecks were stolen, DFAS spokesman Tom LaRock said.
Those investigators have not determined whether the soldiers are liable for the lost money or if the government will repay them, LaRock said.
Government investigators told Redmon that someone had logged onto his account using his login and password.
LaRock said stolen identity cases occur occasionally for some of the 6.6 million people whose payroll is processed by DFAS, but it's not a widespread problem.
He said most often, login information is stolen by a computer virus that records keystrokes. Other times, emails from people pretending to be financial institutions lure people into giving them enough information to compromise their accounts.
Redmon's wife, Julie, said the family's attempts to recoup the money have so far produced little other than hours wasted on the phone and extreme frustration. Bancorp told the Redmons they'd need a subpoena to get any information about the account where the check was deposited. One of the fraud hotline numbers Bancorp gave them was for a psychic hotline.
Investigators asked the Redmons if they were having marital problems and if their 8-year-old was computer-savvy. It seems, Julie Redmon said, that no one believes their claim.
"We are victims of theft, and the whole time we've been made to feel like we did something wrong," Julie Redmon said. "What's crazy is my husband caught it beforehand and nobody did anything to stop it."
Redmon said she has no idea how the login and password were compromised. Stephen Redmon logged into the government payroll site, called myPay, from their home computer, his phone and a library on Fort Bragg.
The safest place for soldiers to check their myPay site is from their secure computers at work, LaRock said. He said people should be especially careful when using public computers or open wireless networks.
"The bad guys have ways to intercept data from those unsecure Wi-Fi spots," LaRock said.
Diverting paychecks to prepaid credit cards has been a problem previously with federal tax refunds and Social Security checks. It's unclear how widespread the problem may be in the military, but LaRock said cases are usually isolated.
Julie Redmon said a DFAS representative told her husband he's not the first person it has happened to, and that similar problems occur every month. The Redmons are receiving short-term loans from the government while they wait for a decision.
Julie Redmon said the ordeal has left them with a feeling of helplessness.
"Thank God our family, we have money in savings," Redmon said. "There's so many military families that live paycheck to paycheck."
Staff writer John Ramsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3574.
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