The first time Department of Veterans Affairs psychologist Kristy Ditzler heard that Thrift Savings Plan had switched to a new backup service and that she needed to create a new account on TSP.gov was in September, when she received a letter informing her , that someone had already done it on her behalf.
“On September 7th, I received a paper letter from TSP and opened it on the morning of the 8thth, and he said, ‘Your account has been claimed and your contact information has been changed, and if you haven’t taken that action, then call us,’ Ditzler said. “So I called at 7:30 this morning and found out that actually on August 21st, someone took over my account, changed the username and password, and then made a $98,543 hardship withdrawal.”
In June, TSP moved to new registrar vendor Accenture Federal Services, which boasts better security and functionality for users. But since then, participants have reported a range of issues, from difficulty proving their identity to create new accounts and having to resubmit beneficiary designations to losing historical account data and other problems. Many of the problems were exacerbated by Accenture’s gross underestimation of the number of calls seeking assistance to the TSP’s customer service hotline and the resulting understaffing of the call center.
When Ditzler contacted Thriftline, a representative encouraged her to lock her account to prevent further theft of her retirement savings — something she couldn’t do because she no longer had access to her account — and filed a report with the combating TSP fraud. The next day, she filed a report with the FBI website about identity theft, but for the next three weeks, she heard nothing from TSP about her case.
“I called TSP every day for the next few days and was unable to ask ‘What is your phone number and your PIN number?’, despite having to say over and over again, ‘My account has been hacked, the PIN is spoofed and the email address it’s not mine,” she said. “They would never help me, listen to me or take me seriously.”
The next time Ditzler got an update on her case wasn’t from TSP. She said an investigator from the Virginia Office of Inspector General called on Oct. 3 and said several department employees had their accounts stolen from under them.
“He told me that someone made eight different attempts from different IP addresses before they finally got into my account,” Ditzler said. “Although [the suspicious login activity]My account was not locked.’
This was announced by the VA Office of Inspector General executive authority that it does not confirm or deny the existence of ongoing investigations.
On Oct. 12, Ditzler said she finally heard from TSP’s anti-fraud team. They told her the Treasury Department had prevented her cash from the hardship withdrawal from being paid out and was holding it while law enforcement continued to investigate. While that seemed like good news, she said the person she spoke with declined to provide a name or contact information so she could follow up on her case.
“They told me I would be whole, but they didn’t give me an ETA on when to expect that,” Ditzler said. “So I’m sitting here $98,000 short and my account is frozen and all I can do is wait for secret phone calls.”
TSP spokeswoman Kim Weaver confirmed that Ditzler was the victim of a “bad actor” and that her money was refunded, although she could not comment further on the case due to an ongoing law enforcement investigation.
“I would emphasize that TSP has a robust anti-fraud program that continuously monitors TSP participants’ accounts for fraudulent activity,” she said. “As in this case, if necessary, our anti-fraud team will contact law enforcement for assistance.”
Weaver urged all TSP participants to ensure their accounts are protected in the new backup system.
“We encourage participants to always practice good cyber hygiene and regularly log into their TSP to verify their information,” she said. “That’s why we encourage our participants to set their new passwords for their accounts.”
Ditzler suspects the culprit was able to get into her account through a combination of brute force and using her personal information exposed during the Office of Personnel Management hack in 2014. Although she said she was relieved to learn, that the money would be refunded to her account – she was advised that the refund was being processed after executive authorityTSP inquiries—experience has soured her on a 401(k)-style retirement plan.
“What I was so horrified to discover with TSP is that you’re really nothing but an account number, a PIN, an email and a phone number,” Ditzler said. “You as a person don’t really exist for them and if any of that changes you’re out of luck and there’s no counselor to talk to and no real concern.” I’m pretty good at keeping my cool as a psychologist, but I really lost my cool a few times on the phone with people who kept reading scripts to me.
“I plan to roll it all into a private IRA and be done with them,” she said.