AFSA Newsletter - August 2015

August 2015, Volume 29, Number 4

How Does the OPM Data Breach Affect You?

Since the Office of Personnel Management’s June 4 announcement about the hacking of the personally identifiable information (PII) of 4.2 million federal workers, many AFSA members have been anxious to know how they’ve been affected. On the same day as the breach, State’s Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy sent an email indicating that “data on State Department employees (Civil and Foreign Service, active and retiree and FSN retirees under the old CSR system) was not on the OPM systems involved.”

On June 12, OPM announced a larger breach that snared security clearance files, including SF-86 forms, affecting 21.5 million individuals (1.8 million being spouses/co-inhabitants of those investigated). At this point, OPM had already committed to notifying the 4.2 million people affected in the first data breach by email (or if no email was on file with OPM, by U.S. mail) between June 8 and June 19. OPM is offering free credit monitoring services and identify theft insurance for 18 months through contractor CSID [www.csid.com/opm or (844) 222-2743].

OPM later indicated that the notification would only be directed to work email addresses (presumably those ending “.gov”). Many annuitants using monthly direct deposit were unsure what mailing address and email address (if any) were on file with OPM and immediately contacted AFSA for help.

Dozens wanted to know if their information had been hacked. They requested help determining what email and/or U.S. mail addresses were on file with OPM. Members also had specific concerns including the effect of the breach on annuity payments, long waiting times when calling CSID and a request to defer the 18 months of free credit monitoring.

Was my information hacked?

CSID, OPM’s contractor, promised to contact all 4.2 million federal employees affected by the earlier reported theft of PII, either by email or standard letter between June 8 and June 19. For the larger hacking of security clearance investigations, OPM and the Department of Defense are working to contract a private sector credit and identity theft monitoring firm to contact affected employees. Many employees and former employees are skeptical that not having received an email or letter is proof that they were not affected. See page 2 (“OPM Guidance on Monitoring Your Identity and Financial Information”) for more information.

How do I know what email and postal address OPM has on file for me?

You can log into your account at www.employeeexpress.gov and click on your “Home Address” to see your address and any email on record. If you haven’t yet created a login, just email PayHelp@state.gov or fax (800) 521-2553 with your first and last name and the last four digits of your social security number. You can also call (800) 521-2553 to confirm the mailing and email addresses on file for you. However, changing an address on file must be done in writing—send your change by email PayHelp@state.gov, fax (800) 521-2553 or standard letter to:

Office of Compensation & Pension
U.S. Department of State
1969 Dyess Avenue, Building 646B
P.O. Box 150008
Charleston SC 29415-5008

What has AFSA been doing?

AFSA has been proactive in seeking answers on behalf of its members, from the June 25 letter sent to President Barack Obama to supporting legislation designed to provide greater protections to affected federal workers. Go to www.afsa.org and click on “OPM Data Breach” on the main page for a chronology of AFSA’s actions to support its membership.

What about the hacking of security investigations?

According to Fedweek, the Navy, not OPM, is handling the contract “to provide credit monitoring and similar identify theft protections for three years for some 3.6 current and former federal employees and also for some 17 million contractor and military personnel who applied for clearances or had them renewed over the last 15 years or who were named as associates in those applications.” It has been widely reported that retirees who have not undergone a security investigation (including a periodic update) since 2000 have not likely had their information hacked.

Were annuity payments affected by the breach?

State advises that pension payments are made directly from State to Treasury and do not pass through OPM, so they were not impacted. However, Employee Express, hosted by OPM, does house W2 and 1099 statements for both CS and FS employees and annuitants. Again, OPM will be contacting those individuals directly. There has been no indication yet of the effect on TSP.

NOTE: All FS retirees are serviced by State and have access to their information through Annuitant Express on www.exmployeeexpress.gov.

Stay tuned by regularly checking www.afsa.org for updates.

OPM Guidance on Monitoring Your Identity and Financial Information

Monitor financial account statements and immediately report any suspicious or unusual activity to financial institutions.

Request a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Consumers are entitled by law to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—for a total of three reports every year. Contact information for the credit bureaus can be found on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website: www.ftc.gov.

Review resources provided on the FTC identity theft website, www.Identitytheft.gov. The FTC maintains a variety of consumer publications providing comprehensive information on computer intrusions and identity theft.

You may place a fraud alert on your credit file to let creditors know to contact you before opening a new account in your name. Call TransUnion at (800) 680-7289 to place this alert. TransUnion will then notify the other two credit bureaus on your behalf.

Precautions to Help You Avoid Becoming a Victim

Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits or e1mail messages from individuals asking about you, your employees, your colleagues or any other internal information. If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the company. Do not provide personal information or information about your organization, including its structure or networks, unless you are certain of a person’s authority to have the information. Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information. This includes following links sent via email. Do not send sensitive information over the Internet before checking a website’s security (for more information, see “Protecting Your Privacy,” www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-013).

Pay attention to the URL of a website. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com versus .net).

If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly. Do not use contact information provided on a website connected to the request; instead, check previous statements for contact information.

Information about known phishing attacks is also available online from groups such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group (www.antiphishing.org).

Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls and email filters to reduce some of this traffic (for more information, see “Understanding Firewalls,” www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-004; “Understanding Anti-Virus Software,” www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-005; and “Reducing Spam,” www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-007).

Take advantage of any anti-phishing features offered by your email client and web browser.

Employees and retirees should take steps to monitor their personally identifiable information and report any suspected instances of identity theft to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

Additional information about preventative steps can be found on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, www.consumer.gov/idtheft. The FTC also encourages those who discover that their information has been misused to file a complaint with the commission using the contact information below:

Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
www.identitytheft.gov
1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338)
TDD: 1-202-326-2502

Notice from the FTC

The following is a notice from the Federal Trade Commission with regard to a scam alert for victims of the OPM Data Breaches.

It’s NOT the FTC calling about the OPM breach:

If you’re an OPM data breach victim, you probably know to look out for identity theft. But what about imposter scams? In the latest twist, imposters are pretending to be the FTC offering money to OPM data breach victims.

Here’s how it works: A man calls and says he’s from the FTC and has money for you because you were an OPM data breach victim. All you need to do is give him some information.

Stop. Don’t tell him anything. He’s not from the FTC.

One fake name the caller has used is Dave Johnson, with the FTC in Las Vegas, Nevada. There’s not even an FTC office in Las Vegas. The FTC won’t be calling to ask for your personal information. We won’t be giving money to OPM data breach victims either.

That’s just one example of the type of scam you might see. You may get a different call or email. Here are some tips for recognizing and preventing government imposter scams and other phishing scams:

Don’t give personal information. Don’t provide any personal or financial information unless you’ve initiated the call, and it’s to a phone number you know to be correct. Never provide financial information by email.

Don’t wire money. The government won’t ask you to wire money or put it on a prepaid debit card. Also, the government won’t ask you to pay money to claim a grant, prize or refund.

Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can spoof their numbers so it looks like they are calling from a government agency, even when they are not. Federal agencies will not call to tell you they are giving you money.

If you’ve received a call or email that you think is fake, report it to the FTC. If it’s an email that relates to the OPM breach, you also can forward it to US-CERT at phishing-report@us-cert.gov. If you gave your personal information to an imposter, it’s time to change those compromised passwords, account numbers or security questions.

Bill to Change COLA Calculation

Recently, Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) introduced H.R. 3351, the CPI-E Act of 2015. This bill would require Social Security programs and many federal retirement programs, including FSPS and FSRDS, to use the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) to calculate the cost-of-living adjustments. This would help ensure that seniors’ benefits are not diminished over time.

When introducing the bill, Congressman Honda said: “The costs seniors bear are different than those for younger people. Our current method of accounting for cost-of-living adjustments does not take that into consideration. We need to recognize this discrepancy and change the formula that determines federal retirement programs to make sure our seniors can enjoy a safe, secure and healthy life in their later years. Seniors depend on these programs and deserve to be treated fairly.”

Using the CPI-E, instead of the current CPI-W (Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers), would protect the benefits for retirees from the disproportionate rise in costs specific to seniors, such as healthcare and housing costs. From December 1982 through December 2011, the CPI-E rose at an annual average rate of 3.1 percent, compared to 2.9 percent for the CPI-W.

This means retirees have been losing purchasing power at the rate of roughly 0.2 percent per year. If enacted, H.R. 3351 would help to prevent those losses.

The 5 Year Rule to Keep FEHB and FEGLI in Retirement

When planning for retirement it is important to keep in mind the “five-year rules” that apply for keeping both Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) and Federal Employee's Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) after retirement.

According to OPM, you may continue your health insurance coverage only if you meet the following conditions:

  • Your annuity must begin within 30 days or, if you are retiring under the Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) plus 10 provision of the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), health and life insurance coverages are suspended until your annuity begins, even if it is postponed.
  • You must be covered for health insurance when you retire.
  • You must have been continuously covered by FEHB, TRICARE or the Civilian Health and Medical Program for Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS):
    • for five years immediately before retiring;
    • during all of your federal employment since your first opportunity to enroll; or,
    • continuously for full periods of service beginning with the enrollment that started before January 1, 1965, and ending with the date on which you become an annuitant, whichever is shortest.

You can keep your basic life insurance in retirement if all of the following conditions are met:

  • You have coverage when you retire.
  • You have not converted coverage to an individual policy.
  • Your annuity begins within 30 days or, if you are retiring under the MRA plus 10 provision of FERS and you have postponed the commencing date of your annuity, health and life insurance coverage is suspended until your annuity begins.
  • You were insured for life insurance for the five years immediately preceding retirement or the full periods of service when coverage was available.

You can keep your optional life insurance in retirement if all of the following conditions are met:

  • You are eligible to continue your basic coverage.
  • You were covered by the optional life insurance for the five years immediately preceding retirement or the full periods of service when coverage was available, if less than five years.

Class Action Suit: Former USIA and USAID Employees

Former United States Information Agency and United States Agency for International Development employees who retired, separated or died between 1993 and 1999 and who received lump-sum payments for unused annual leave, may be entitled to additional compensation for this leave because of a pending class action suit (Kandel v. U.S.).

In 2006, former employees of 17 agencies, including the Department of State, participated in a class action suit (Archeluta v. U.S.) to recover monies that they should have been paid by their agencies. Although USIA had been abolished in 1999 and its non-broadcasting functions folded into the Department of State, the department—as the successor agency—did not provide the Department of Justice with the names of potentially eligible class-action USIA participants. Also, USAID was not included in the original class action suit. Former USIA and USAID employees are now included in the current class action suit.

The lawyer working for the plaintiffs provided AFSA with the following information to share with members who might have received a notice in the mail about joining the class action suit:

BASIC INFORMATION

Why did I get this Notice?

The federal government’s records show that you retired or separated from a federal agency at some point from Oct. 14, 1993, to Sept. 6, 1999. The purpose of this Notice explains that the Court has allowed, or “certified,” a class action lawsuit brought against the federal government. As a former federal employee, you may be eligible to participate in the class action lawsuit by filing a timely “opt-in claim form.” If an eligible former federal employee has died, his or her surviving spouse, or heirs, will also be able to participate by filing an “opt-in claim form.”

The “opt-in claim form” is available online at www.fedlumpsum.com or by mail when you call 1-866-329-5558. Fill out the form and return it to the independent Class Administrator. The attorneys for plaintiffs (Class Counsel) have been permitted to send this Notice by the United States Court of Federal Claims. However, the court is not encouraging individuals to join this lawsuit, nor is the court discouraging individuals from doing so. The court has appointed an independent Class Administrator, Epiq Systems, Inc. of Portland, Oregon, to collect and administer all of the “opt-in claim forms” that are submitted by those former federal employees who choose to be included in the class. The court has required the Class Administrator to protect the privacy and security of any former employee who files a form by not releasing any personal information or social security number.

What is this lawsuit about?

This lawsuit concerns whether your former federal agency violated federal pay statutes by failing to pay a supplemental lump-sum payment to former federal employees after an annual COLA increase or other pay increase went into effect during the period of the former employee’s unused annual leave (projecting forward from the date of retirement, separation, or death the number of days of unused annual leave). The Plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that certain federal agencies did not include in a supplemental lump-sum payment for unused annual leave the pay increase that the employee would have earned if he or she had remained a federal employee for the period of their unused annual leave from Oct. 14, 1993, to Sept. 6, 1999.

What is a Class Action and who is involved?

In a class action lawsuit, one or more people called “Class Representatives” (in this case, several retired federal employees) sue on behalf of other employees who have similar claims. The former employees who “opt-in” are called a “Class” or “Class Members.” The people who sued—and all Class Members like them—are the “Plaintiffs.” The United States is called “Defendant.” In a class action in the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., one court resolves the issues for all Class Members who choose to join the lawsuit.

Why is this lawsuit a class action?

The Court decided that this lawsuit can be a class action and move toward a trial because it meets the requirements of Rule 23 of the Rules of the United States Court of Federal Claims, which governs class actions in the United States Court of Federal Claims. Specifically, the court found that:

  • The potential Class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
  • There are legal questions and facts that are common to each Class Member’s claims;
  • The Class Representatives’ claims are typical of the claims of the rest of the Class;
  • The Class Representatives and their Class Counsel, Ira M. Lechner and Steven M. Winton, will fairly and adequately represent the interests of the Class;
  • The common legal questions and facts are more important than questions affecting only individual Class Members; and
  • This class action will be more efficient than having many individual lawsuits.

For more information, see the Court’s Order, which is available at www.fedlumpsum.com.

Retiree Spotlight: Interview with Timothy Lawson

Born in Dayton, Ohio, Timothy Lawson served in Amman, Moscow (twice), Beirut, Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Islamabad, Seoul and Washington. He is a Navy veteran and was employed by the Army and Air Force in communications, intelligence and electronic warfare. He completed studies with the Naval War College and Russian, Chinese-Mandarin and Cantonese language courses at the Foreign Service Institute. Joining the Foreign Service in 1981 as an FSS-09 communications and records assistant, Lawson was eventually promoted across the threshold into the ranks of the Senior Foreign Service. Since retiring in 2007, he has resided in Thailand with his wife and son.

AFSA: We note that you retired in Thailand. What drove your decision-making to retire overseas? Did your Foreign Service career prepare you well for the transition?

Timothy Lawson: On the one hand, I could say that the department did absolutely nothing to support my overseas retirement plan (none of our official retirement transition programs are geared to retiring overseas). But on the other hand, the department made it all possible. Indeed, had I not been assigned to Embassy Bangkok from 1998 until 2003, I would never have met my Thai “bride to be” nor would my youngest son have been born here.

Like many employees, I was charmed by the beauty, tranquility and kindness of the Thai people and the kingdom itself. I still recall our deputy chief of mission at the time saying that unlike most posts that had to work hard to keep staff turnover in check, Embassy Bangkok faced the opposite challenge: too many employees requested tour extensions. A Bangkok assignment had that kind of impact. It probably still does, I would imagine. I was thinking then how wonderful it might be to retire here—even though my thinking was a decade early and interspersed by an unaccompanied danger-pay post (Pakistan) and a final assignment to Embassy Seoul, before I would actually retire on my 50th birthday. With 32 years, 11 months and 25 days of combined military, Civil Service and Foreign Service duty, my birthday would open a new chapter.

AFSA: What are your activities in retirement? What are the advantages and disadvantages of retiring overseas in Thailand that you have experienced?

TL: Because of my Foreign Service experience and my many contacts in Washington, I had considerable employment and “second career” opportunities. I chose not to pursue them. If I had wanted to continue working I could have remained in the Foreign Service for another 10 years beyond my voluntary retirement date. But, after serving at 11 different posts and performing official travel to almost 65 countries, I longed to be with my family and sought stability.

Other than a brief stint as a consultant and writing occasional articles and letters for The Foreign Service Journal and for the National Military Intelligence Association, my retirement is family-focused. My youngest son, at age 14, is full of wonderment about the world. My wife and I do our best to steer his course through a world which is far more uncertain than the one I thought the Foreign Service had previously “made safe for democracy.”

There are also volunteer activities such as blood donation, temple support and Thai charities that we assist. Our dogs also demand attention. The advantages to retiring in Thailand are many: inexpensive living, a friendly pro-American population and the natural beauty of a year-round tropical paradise are but a few.

The disadvantages are far less, but include language issues (I speak basic Thai but also enjoy 24/7 translators—my wife and son) and geography. The sheer distance from loved ones in America is a factor. Life here is life on the other side of the planet. Neither the speed nor comfort of air travel has changed since I flew to my first post in Jordan (1981), but costs have soared. Uncle Sam, during retirement, no longer foots the bill for Home Leave.

AFSA: What “lessons learned” or other tips would you pass on to others about retirement overseas?

TL: As a diplomat retiring abroad, you transform into a mere expatriate. You no longer enjoy the special exclusions and immunities of life behind embassy walls. But you suddenly discover new opportunities. For example, you can immerse yourself in a new culture, its customs and beliefs.

I recall the profound proximity and remoteness I felt simultaneously as I watched my Thai-American son take vows as a “novice monk” and spend eight days at a Buddhist temple. Raising palms together, forming the traditional Thai “wai” to honor my newly ordained son, my love for my children and grandchildren in America, and for America itself, flashed across my mind. I was so far from home. Yet a new chapter about a “home away from home” had begun for this retired American diplomat.

AFSA Daily Media Digest: A Valuable Member Benefit

AFSA compiles a daily email digest of news items (articles, opinion pieces, blogs, etc.) affecting the Foreign Service. Each day, we send out a list of five to 10 news items that we believe our members might find of interest.

More than 1,600 members are currently taking advantage of this service. One USAID retiree recently sent AFSA the following message:

“Dear AFSA: Just a brief note to tell you how much I appreciate receiving your Daily Media Digest reports. I'm still active in public outreach on behalf of USAID development and State diplomacy, and your reports have kept me informed and current on various foreign policy issues.”

Two State retirees also complimented AFSA on this valuable member benefit:

“First I would like to say how much I look forward to these emails. I think you do a great job of finding stories that are unique but pertinent to the Foreign Service.”

And, “Thanks again, AFSA, for your Daily Media Digest report; it's really unique in its coverage. Today, for example, the CRS report on Freedom of Navigation is very timely, and also has links to the DOD's Freedom of Navigation annual report—the first time I ever knew there was such a report!”

To subscribe to this service, please send a request to mediadigest@afsa.org. Remember, this service is available for AFSA members only.

We hope you take advantage of this very useful member benefit!

Upcoming Event at AFSA

AFSA is pleased to present the 11th installment of our Speaker Series on Federal Benefits. On Thursday, Oct. 8, at 2 p.m., we welcome Washington Retirement Planning Specialist and WealthCrest Financial Service to speak about “Planning for Retirement.”

This program will take place at AFSA headquarters, 2101 E Street NW. We request that RSVPs be sent to events@afsa.org. Note that this event is open to AFSA members only.

Washington Retirement Planning Specialist and WealthCrest Financial Services will present a general overview on planning for retirement, providing advice and counsel on financial planning.

We hope you can join us for this informative presentation. A comprehensive Q&A session will follow the formal portion of the program. An optional cocktail hour to socialize and meet one-on-one with representatives from each organization will follow.

For those who are unable to attend, AFSA will record this event and make it available for online viewing through our website and Facebook page.

Job Opening at AFSA

The American Foreign Service Association is hiring a Retiree Counselor. If you or someone you know might be interested, please visit www.afsa.org/jobs-afsa.

AFSA is an Equal Opportunity Employer and offers a competitive salary and benefits package. AFSA offers a collegial working environment at our AFSA Headquarters building at 2101 E St NW, Washington, D.C.

To apply please send resume and cover letter to Director of Member Services Janet Hedrick at jobs@afsa.org by Sept. 25, 2015.

Please direct any questions that you may have to our in-house expert on retirement issues:

Todd Thurwachter
Retiree Counselor
(202) 994-5509
thurwachter@afsa.org