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The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has announced two data breaches affecting millions of current, former, and potential federal employees and contractors. The initial breach affected approximately 4.2 million current and former federal employees by exposing their personally identifiable information (PII), or personnel records. The kind of data that may have been compromised includes names, Social Security numbers, dates and places of birth, and current and former addresses. It could also include job assignments, training records and benefit selection decisions. OPM claims that banking information, Thrift Savings Plan, Employee Express and tax information were not compromised in this initial incident. OPM has notified those individuals affected by the initial data breach.
During the investigation of that initial data breach, investigators became aware of a second data breach affecting a different set of OPM systems and data. This second data breach is estimated to have affected 21.5 million people and may have exposed background investigation data on millions of current, former, and potential federal employees and contractors. ccording to OPM’s online incident resource center, notifications to the 21.5 million affected people will begin soon.
OPM will soon notify those affected by the background investigation incident. Those affected will be provided with details on the incident and the protective services available to them - a suite of comprehensive services for at least three years, including:
For those of you who are concerned about either breach but have not yet received notification from OPM, I suggest the following course of action:
There are three nationwide credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. You can place a fraud alert by calling one of these credit reporting companies and request they place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. Alternatively, you may visit one of the credit reporting agencies’ websites and place the initial fraud alert online. The credit reporting company you contact is required to notify the other two companies about your alert. The fraud alert makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open credit in your name by requiring businesses to verify your identity, often times by contacting you, before they issue credit.
There are three types of fraud alerts available. The first is the Initial Fraud Alert. If you're concerned about identity theft, but haven't yet become a victim, this fraud alert will protect your credit from unverified access for at least 90 days. It also allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies.
The second is the Extended Fraud Alert. It’s similar to the initial fraud alert, but is for those who are victims of identity theft, and protects your credit for seven years. The third is the Active Duty Military Alert, which provides service men and women an additional measure to protect their credit. If deployed, military personnel may place an active duty alert on his or her credit report, which lasts for one year. If deployment last longer, he or she may renew the alert.
You may also want to consider placing a credit freeze on your credit file. The credit freeze prevents potential creditors from getting your credit report, effectively preventing new credit from being issued. Depending on your state’s law, there may be a cost to place and lift a credit freeze.
Bear in mind, a fraud alert and credit freeze makes it more difficult for thieves to obtain new credit, but neither do anything to prevent the misuse of existing accounts.
To that end, you should be proactive in protecting your identity and credit. For example, make a habit of regularly exercising your right to a free credit report. You are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting agencies, which means you could get one every four months. To get your free credit report you can visit www.annualcreditreport.com, or call 1-877-322-8228.
Furthermore, there are ways to monitor your bank accounts and credit card accounts other than waiting for the monthly statement. For example, many banks and credit card companies allow you to set up alerts to notify you for things such as large balance changes, dropping below a minimum balance, and transactions above a certain limit. For example, I receive an email every time an expense greater than $50 is charged to my bank account or credit card.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a terrific website dedicated to ID theft - https://www.identitytheft.gov. I encourage you to visit this site and take proactive measures to protecting your personal information and identity.
You’ll also want to visit OPM’s online incident resource center for additional information and details. In addition to this resource, OPM will be launching a call center in the coming weeks to field any questions you may have.
We will continue to provide additional information and recommendations as this story continues to evolve.
- Mark Keen is financial columnist for narfe magazine.
NARFE (National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association)
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