The Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun looking into the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pension payments from Iowa’s largest public employees’ pension fund, state officials confirmed Thursday.
The news comes the day after the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System announced that 103 retirees’ accounts were compromised in mid-October. The system, which serves employees of state and local governments and school districts, provides pension checks to 115,000 retirees who receive about $1.8 billion in payments annually.
Criminals who had obtained stolen Social Security numbers and birth dates used the information to register for IPERS’ online account access and changed the direct deposit information.
For Iowans immediately concerned about whether they’ve been the target of that breach, IPERS officials and the Attorney General’s office are recommending a few courses of action.
Check your bank account
“We’ve asked retirees who would get a monthly benefit just to confirm that their benefit was deposited at their financial institution. That’s the number-one thing,” said IPERS’ spokeswoman Judy Akre.
If your account has been breached, she said, your monthly benefit payment will not have been deposited yet.
Akre said IPERS has made phone calls and issued mailed notices to those who have been affected. The organization also has cut new checks to those individuals that likely will be deposited on or before Nov. 7.
IPERS is offering to reimburse anyone whose bank account was overdrafted because their benefit check had not been deposited on schedule.
“If they experienced any kind of insufficient funds, they can make a copy of their statement and send it to us,” Akre said.
Call the police
Nathan Blake, the deputy attorney general for policy at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, said Iowans whose accounts have been breached should make a police report.
“Theoretically at least, people could figure out who did it and those people could be charged criminally,” he said.
But it’s also helpful to have a formal police report documenting your stolen identity in other cases. For example, he said, many companies will freeze your credit — for a fee. But that fee can be waived for victims of identity theft, he said.
Monitor your accounts
Keep an eye on all of your bank and credit card statements for any unusual charges, Blake said, and monitor your credit to see whether anyone has opened lines of credit in your name.
Credit monitoring agencies charge a fee, he said, but help keep track of those kinds of things for you.
It may be a useful tool particularly for those affected in this IPERS breach, he said.
Because the thieves used stolen Social Security numbers, which can’t be changed unlike a bank or credit account, those impacted are likely to feel the effects for years to come.
“You have to be on notice for the rest of your life and just be cautious,” Blake said.
Akre said the Social Security numbers were not stolen from IPERS. She did not have information about where the thieves obtained them, but Social Security numbers were obtained recently in a number of high-profile data breaches, including the most recent from Equifax.
Freeze your credit
Blake recommending freezing your credit, which prevents people from opening an account or getting credit using your information.
If you’re buying a house or need to open a new line of credit, though, you can temporarily lift the freeze.
Doing that costs money in Iowa, though the Attorney General’s office hopes to propose legislation next year that would make it free for Iowans to freeze and unfreeze their credit.
“There are certain situations where it’s not a great fit, but for a lot of people, especially if you’ve had your identity compromised in the way these folks appear to have had, it might be the safest route,” Blake said.