Military veterans are often the targets of foreign propaganda agents and scammers, according to a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing held last week.
The hearing dealt with threats veterans face leading up to the 2020 presidential election and included officials from veteran service organizations and tech-industry leaders.
“Veterans wield considerable influence and credibility in their communities,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the committee chairman. “That esteemed trust in our veterans is now being hijacked by foreign imposters online and used to spread harmful disinformation, political propaganda and fake news.”
A two-year study Vietnam Veterans of America released earlier this year brought the issue to light. It discovered that Russian assets with controversial and harmful content target veterans and their followers on social media along with veteran organizations and agencies.
“American veterans and the social media followers of several congressionally chartered veterans service organizations were specifically targeted by the Russian Internet Research Agency with at least 113 ads during and after the 2016 election,” wrote Kristofer Goldsmith, the chief investigator and associate director for policy and governmental affairs for VVA.
The report also warned that scammers were creating fake profiles using the names of real organizations. In some cases, the scammers were using the fake accounts to solicit donations from veterans and steal their banking information.
Foreign actors also created fake profiles on social media claiming to be U.S. veterans in order to scam unsuspecting people, particularly those who are new to social media.
Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter have taken action in an attempt to remove fraudulent accounts and scammers from their respective sites. According to a report from Federal News Network, Facebook’s security policy head Nathaniel Gleicher stated 1.3 billion fraudulent accounts were removed from the site in the last quarter.
Despite the efforts, representatives from both Twitter and Facebook told Congress that state-funded scamming operations can create new accounts nearly as fast as the old ones are deleted.
As a result, VVA testified that it believed the federal government needed to step up efforts to protect veterans online. The organization called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to make cybersecurity a higher priority.
However, VVA representatives said they have yet to hear back from the VA or the FBI about the large number of cyber incidents targeting veterans that have been reported.