WASHINGTON—While anyone can be the target of online scams, veterans might be especially vulnerable to internet fraud and social media identity theft, according to veterans’ advocates.

Making the situation even worse, they testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee last month, the stress caused by exposure to upsetting disinformation can have a negative impact on veterans’ health. This particularly applies to newly-returned veterans who are still working to reintegrate into civilian life.

Kristofer Goldsmith, chief investigator and associate director of policy for the Vietnam Veterans of America, explained that veterans are a common target of social media spoofing—where fake social media accounts using stolen photographs or names are used to imitate an actual person in order to gain trust and credibility. A veteran’s service gives them more community respect and a higher social status when it comes to politics and social issues, and so their identity can be a valuable tool for spoofers to appropriate.

Goldsmith and VVA became aware of the scope of the problem when the service organization itself became the victim of spoofers.

“VVA gave me the title of chief investigator out of necessity. I took on this additional role when VVA came to realize we were facing a series of foreign-born online imposters who were creating social media accounts and websites that were meant to trick our members and supporters,” Goldsmith told committee members. “These importers were and still are using our name and brand to spread fake news meant to inflame national divisions.”

Since beginning his investigation, Goldsmith has uncovered election interference and campaign finance scams run by Macedonian criminals who had taken over pages created by real veterans and were using them to direct xenophobic attacks against four women of color in Congress. The investigation also found multiple entities from Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria who were purporting to be VVA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google and Reddit. VVA is also tracking a Twitter bot network that finds veterans advocates such as Goldsmith, follows them on Twitter and tries to blend in with veterans’ communities by retweeting official accounts.

Continue Reading this Article: Targeting of Veterans