OPM breach updateUpdated: July 10, 2015

The stakes keep getting bigger for federal government employees whose information was compromised in the recently discovered Office of Personnel Management hack — and now employees’ family members could be at risk as well. New information indicates that, rather than the initial report of 4.2 million employee records being accessed, hackers were able to access nearly five times more data. This includes more than 21 million social security numbers, 1.1 million fingerprint records and 19.7 million background investigation forms. Anyone who submitted to a federal background check since 2000 is likely at risk, and it’s also possible according to the Wall Street Journal that those who underwent background checks prior to 2000 could also be at risk. No matter what, it seems like the federal government can’t catch a break when it comes to this latest breach, and following lawmakers calling for OPM director Katherine Archuleta to be fired, she has resigned from her position.

What does this new OPM breach information mean for me?

The background clearance forms potentially accessed went back decades, which means that federal employees past and present — as well as the families of those who were required to complete a background check to be approved for hire — should be on alert. It’s been estimated that 1.8 million family members were exposed as a result of the 19.7 million background check forms accessed. Among the data exposed are social security numbers, which can be used by identity thieves in myriad ways to commit identity fraud. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it is believed the hackers responsible for this breach are state-sponsored Chinese whose intent is to collect information which can be used against spies or other enemies of the state. Indeed, background clearance forms contain information such as records of past drug use, mental health issues and foreign contacts that could be of use to a foreign intelligence agency for blackmail or counterintelligence. Employees of the FBI, CIA, State Department and the Department of Defense are included within the millions whose information was stolen, making this a grave national security matter. However, China has not accepted responsibility for this hack, and it is best for victims to be on the alert in case any stolen information makes its way onto the Internet black market or other hubs for identity thieves.

Following the initial announcement of the hack, OPM offered free credit and identity monitoring from CSID to employees whose information may have been exposed. Those who were eligible at that time were notified by letter during a period of two weeks in June. The federal agency is saying it will be providing three years of identity theft protection to the more than 21 million people whose information has been breached, contracted from a private company. It is unclear yet whether this coverage will also be from CSID or another company.

In the meantime, you can learn more about protecting your identity as well as the identities of your family members by reading through our identity theft protection blog and checking out our reviews of the top-rated identity theft protection services on the market.