Unauthorized email access prompts alert; teacher retirement system tells members to check data

Teacher Retirement System Executive Director Clint Rhoden is shown in this photo.
(Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Teacher Retirement System Executive Director Clint Rhoden is shown in this photo. (Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System last week sent letters to about 50,000 of its working and retired members informing them about a data security incident in February that may have affected their personal information, including their names and Social Security numbers, system Executive Director Clint Rhoden said Monday.

State government's largest retirement system "recently discovered that an agency email account was accessed by an unauthorized individual," Rhoden said in a written statement to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

He said in his letter to members, dated Friday, that the system received reports of suspicious activity associated with an agency email account on Feb. 4, immediately began an internal investigation, and hired independent computer forensic investigators to assist with the investigation and to determine the extent of unauthorized activity. The Democrat-Gazette heard about the letter from several members.

"The forensic investigators determined that an unauthorized user gained access to one email account for a limited period of time," Rhoden said Monday in his written statement.

The system has no evidence that any information contained in the e-mail account was actually viewed or misused by the unauthorized individual, "but, out of an abundance of caution, we are providing written notification and free identify protection and credit monitoring services to around 50,000 of our members," Rhoden said. The system has more than 100,000 working and retired members.

In his letter dated Friday, Rhoden wrote that "we are taking steps to help prevent this type of incident from occurring in the future.

"Since the incident, the account password for the affected email account was changed, and we are in the process of enabling multi-factor authentication on all email accounts within the organization," he said.

Rhoden said Friday's letter includes information on signing up for identity protection services through ID Experts.

"I recommend that each ATRS member review the information provided and enroll in the services described in the letter," he said. "It is always a good idea to review your bank or credit card statements and immediately inform your bank if you notice any suspicious activity. You can also visit the Federal Trade Commission's website, www.identitytheft.gov, for more information on protecting your identity."

Rhoden said the letter was sent to the members linked to the security incident by the forensic investigation.

All of the appropriate authorities have been notified, including Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, he said.

The system's investments were valued at $17.5 billion at the end of fiscal 2019 on June 30, the system's investment consultant reported last fall. They were valued at $18.3 billion on Jan. 1 and had dropped to roughly $16.5 billion as of April 6, Rhoden said at the time of a system trustees' meeting. The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System's investments are now valued at about $15.6 billion, Rhoden said Monday. Investments have declined in value during the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.

As of June 30, 2019, the system included 68,457 working members who are not in its deferred retirement plan and have an average annual salary of $39,065. It also had 3,707 working members who are in its deferred retirement plan and have an average annual salary of $62,812 a year, according to an actuary report from Gabriel, Roeder, Smith & Co.

The system also included 48,677 retired members with an average annual benefit of $23,588 a year on June 30, Gabriel reported.

As of June 30, the system was 80% funded based on a $17.4 billion actuarial value of assets and $21.7 billion in liabilities with a projected payoff period of about 28 years, according to Gabriel. The unfunded liabilities totaled $4.29 billion as of June 30, Gabriel said in December.

Actuaries often compare the projected payoff period for unfunded liabilities to a mortgage on home.

The system received $430.8 million in contributions from employers and $141.8 million from members in fiscal 2019.

Metro on 05/12/2020