Day: August 12, 2019

WA Dept of Retirement paves the way for identity thieves…

Washington Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) paves the way for identity thieves…and murderers too.

Read this real-life story.

Sometime around 2014, Washington Department of Retirement decided to make it easier and quicker for its members to change beneficiaries on their retirement accounts. 

They likely didn’t realize they were also making it easier for identity thieves to change beneficiaries too and potentially steal a member’s lifelong retirement savings.

Here are the changes Washington Department of Retirement Systems (DRS) made as of about 2014:

1. WDR posted a blank retirement beneficiary designation change form on the internet so members could download at their convenience.  

2. They made the form searchable, apparently so members could easily locate and download the form on their own. This means the public could also easily locate and download the form.   

3. WDR removed the witness signature line on the form, meaning no witnesses were needed to vouch for the identity of the person signing the beneficiary change form.

4. WDR does not require a notarized signature on the form, meaning proof is not required that its the authentic member signature on that form.

5. WDR does not save the original beneficiary forms. They say they scan them and throw away the originals after 30 days according to several WDR officials.

This means anyone with access to an app like Photoshop, or even a simple copy machine, can easily copy and paste the member’s signature from one document to the blank beneficiary designation form, steal their identity and, and possibly all of their retirement savings, with little fear of being held accountable.

If this sounds like a stretch to you, read this real-life story…

The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

“Steve” (60) met a woman, “Diane,” through Diane lost her job soon thereafter, moved in with Steve and they were married about a year later. Ten days after the marriage, Diane emailed Steve, “This isn’t working out. This is not what I expected in a marriage.”

It is unclear what happened after that, except a flurry of online and email activity with Steve’s online investment accounts began almost immediately after the email was sent. Steve died 3 1/2 months later in a highly suspicious accident.

Three weeks before he died, someone mailed a beneficiary designation form to DRS in his name, replacing his existing beneficiaries (his two teenage daughters, his only children) with only Diane’s name. Diane’s handwriting appears in the beneficiary field, where she wrote in her two last names.

Steve’s signature on the form floats uncharacteristically above the line.

Steve always signs right on the line.

Because DRS destroys the original beneficiary forms, this makes it virtually impossible for a forensic document expert to analyze the form for forgery. And DRS isn’t held liable paying out retirement funds to the wrong party.

Who exactly benefits from DRS’s loose policies with beneficiary form designation changes? The member? Or Department of Retirement Systems?

Is DRS opening the door for identity theft or, worse, murder?

Public Storage privately hides their rent hikes in the fine print.

So you’ve just busted your butt negotiating an expensive but fair price to store your stuff at Public Storage in Seattle, Washington. It’s only for a couple of months, right? And it’s only $71 per month for a 5 x 5. Cool.

But wait. Four months later, that $71 now shows up as $91 in your online bank statements.

You call Public Storage to ask about their increased bill, and what do they tell you? 

Public Storage: “It’s in the contract you signed.”

You: “What? That contract was like 20 or more pages long, and it was a few minutes before closing. I expected my online sales person to disclose all rent costs to me when I called them for a quote. I was never told that the monthly rate would go up after three months…”

Public Storage: “It was your responsibility to read the contract before you signed it.”

You: “Your online salesman  said nothing about a rate increase after only three months…And neither did you…We shook hands…”

Public Storage: “Dial tone.” 

The local Public Storage employee literally hung up on you.

Your call to Public Storage’s 800 number got you nowhere, as they said they were powerless to help.

Your voicemail for Public Storage’s regional manager went unanswered.

Conclusion: You form the strong opinion Public Storage represents a bunch of unethical thieves and their handshake is meaningless.

Tip for Public Storage: Public Storage in Seattle should be more public, forthcoming and transparent, and not so private about their billing practices. People generally expect a business to verbally disclose key information, especially pricing, prior to entering into an agreement – especially when pricing is specifically requested by the consumer. By Public Storage hiding their pricing increases in the fine print, deep in a contract, it comes off as if they are trying to deceive their customers.

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