North Carolina officials have warned about 26,000 retired government employees that their Social Security numbers may have been exposed to public view in an apparent security breach made in January.
The N.C. Department of Sate Treasurer this month advised beneficiaries to remain vigilant for signs of identity theft that could result from the "data security incident."
"We are notifying you so you can take action along with our vendor's efforts to minimize or eliminate potential harm," the letter states. "A victim's personal information is sometimes held for use or shared among a group of thieves at different times."
The notice, sent by the agency's Retirement Systems Division, advised beneficiaries that as many as 26,000 envelopes mailed in January partially or fully exposed the recipients' Social Security numbers, although the actual number affected is believed to be much smaller.
There is no indication that the exposed personal information has led to identity theft or other crimes, the notice says.
"Social Security numbers were potentially displayed in the window of the envelope due to a misalignment of printing," said agency spokeswoman Heather Strickland. "The issue was brought to the Department’s attention by a retiree."
The envelopes contained Retirement Systems 1099R forms, which are sent to beneficiaries and list their 2012 benefits for income tax purposes. This batch of envelopes was sent by Professional Mail Services between Jan. 18 and Jan. 23.
The advisory also says that the retirees are entitled to one free credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, to help track unauthorized activity. The notice provides contact information for each credit reporting agency.