ST. LOUIS - Hundreds of current and former teachers in the St. Louis area recently learned they were victims of an identity theft.
The theft affected various members of the The Public School and Education Employee Retirement Systems of Missouri (PSRS/PEERS). PSRS/PEERS provides retirement benefits for public school teachers and other staff in several districts.
Fortunately, the ID theft did not involve any money lost. But it was a close call.
In the past week, a Glendale resident received a letter in the mail from the retirement system, thanking her for creating an online account.
The woman had never created such an online account.
PSRS/PEERS said in mid-July, someone had obtained personal information and used it to create an online identification.
That information was used in an attempt to access retirement funds, and have them transferred to a fraudulent account, Glendale Police Captain Bob Catlett said.
“Their personal identification information,” he said. “Their names, dates of birth, social security numbers, addresses. That type of information was accessed, somehow, illegally.”
Some victims’ mailing addresses were changed through the United States Postal Service, as well. The woman who reported her case had that experience, but was able to intercept the change of address before it went into effect.
Glendale Police have received that one report. But upon speaking with PSRS/PEERS, they learned many people in the metro area were affected.
“Over 500, most of them in them in the St. Louis area,” Captain Catlett said. “It’s very significant. You consider the number of public school education employees: teachers, staff. It’s their retirement funds that they paid into.”
More than 125,000 active members belong to PSRS/PEERS, and nearly 90,000 retirees and beneficiaries, according to information listed on the organization’s website.
It is unclear how names were selected, how confidential information was obtained, and why most of the victims happen to work or live in the St. Louis area.
PSRS/PEERS said the ID theft affected some members who did not have existing online accounts. General counsel for PSRS/PEERS emphasized that no money was lost during the fraudulent activity, as information technology staff detected unusual patterns and put a stop to it.
A letter was went to all affected members, informing them of the identity theft.
“Any email address on file for your membership has been voided. No action on your part is required with regard to your … membership,” the letter states. It adds, “However, because the information used to create this fraudulent account was acquired from an unknown source, we strongly encourage you to contact all banking institutions, credit card companies, etc. with which you do business to determine if any of these accounts may have been compromised.”
Police say that advice is important, and applies to the general public.
“Review your bank statements. When they come in the mail, or you get them online. Same thing goes for your credit card statements. Also check your credit reports. This is affecting someone’s income. Well-earned income,” Captain Catlett said.