A 64-year-old Jacksonville man who stole his twin brother's personal information to secure veteran benefits has pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Wayne Bowen faces a mandatory penalty of two years in federal prison, while his plea agreement mandates he pay back $63,773 to various agencies for the government benefits he fraudulently received, prosecutors said.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that veterans are especially vulnerable to fraud and identity theft after recording about 41,000 incidents in 2020. David Spilker, a special agent in charge of one of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General’s branches, called Bowen's conduct "abhorrent" for seeking benefits his brother had justly earned.
The identity theft occurred in 2014 when Bowen used the name, Social Security card and military discharge papers of his estranged twin to apply for federally subsidized housing benefits, according to his plea agreement.
Bowen is not a military veteran, prosecutors said. But the specific subsidy he applied for is only intended for indigent military veterans and funded by the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development.
Bowen confirmed he had been using his brother’s identity for years when federal agents interviewed him, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. He added that he had obtained a Florida identification card using his twin’s identity and been arrested and convicted of felonies under that name.
It netted him $32,434 in veteran medical services, along with $18,905 in federal housing subsidies, the plea agreement states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also funded $12,434 in nutritional benefits for him.
Bowen’s twin advised that he did not apply for any of these benefits, nor give permission to use his name, prosecutors said.
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Help to protect veterans from identity theft:
The VA's "Veteran Through its Privacy Service" (va.gov/identitytheft/vaprotects.asp) works to ensure that the personally identifiable information and protected health information of veterans and their beneficiaries are safeguarded. That is done through credit monitoring, awareness training, reduced use of Social Security numbers and changes in records management.
Those concerned their identity has been stolen can call the toll-free VA Veteran Identity Theft Helpline at (855) 578-5492, or via email at PrivacyService@va.gov.
General identity-theft prevention tips
• Create strong computer passwords that employ a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Steer clear of obvious passwords like your birth date, mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
• Lock up financial documents and records containing sensitive information and don't carry items with personal information.
• Shred sensitive documents.
• Secure your wireless network and lock your computer.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Identity theft: Jacksonville man pleads guilty to using twin brother's ID at VA