Workers sign up for credit protection services after identity crises

Posted: Monday, July 05, 2010

More than 25,000 anxious public employees and retirees have signed up for credit protection services after a state contractor last year lost personal data on 77,000 current and former state, municipal and school employees, state officials say.

Despite the widespread concern, there have been no identity thefts attributable to the security breach, said Rachael Petro, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administration.

The contractor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, is paying for the credit monitoring, which can often cost $15 per month.

"We've certainly had a number of folks who have called and been very upset, but once we've explained the nature of the breech and the nature of the settlement with PricewaterhouseCoopers, they seem very comforted," said Pat Shier, director of the Division of Retirement and Benefits.

Under the terms of the settlement negotiated by the Department of Law, those whose information may have been lost are eligible for two years of protection from Equifax Credit Monitoring.

Petro said that as of June 16, 25,604 people had enrolled in monitoring or activated a security freeze.

In the first week after state officials publicly revealed the loss of the data on January 28, the division received 7,100 calls, she said. After the Equifax toll-free line was set up it received an additional 4,500 calls.

Shier said the calls to the division have "run the gamut," but that the state has a strong response in place.

"Without exception, I don't know anybody who is happy with this and we certainly wish that it had never occurred, but we have a model settlement and people are very comforted to have the security in place for several years," he said.

Public employee union officials have also been receiving calls from members, said Jim Duncan of the Alaska State Employees Association. He would have liked to see the state do more.

"I'm still concerned about the way this was handled, but pleased that there have not been any problems at this point," Duncan said.

State officials kept the data loss secret until they'd negotiated a settlement with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and rejected a call from the ASEA to reopen the settlement and seek a longer protection period.

"What's going to be the long-term impact of this?" Duncan asked. "I think the jury is still out on this."

Often stolen data doesn't surface right away, Duncan said.

"Hopefully this is not going to be a problem, but what transpires over a year or so should tell us more," he said.

The Alaska employee and retiree data was provided to the auditing and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the nation's Big Four accounting firms, for use in the state's lawsuit against its actuarial firm Mercer.

Last month the state and Mercer's parent company, Marsh & McLennan Companies, announced a $500 million dollar settlement of the state's claims that Mercer knowingly provided it with inaccurate data.



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