Connecticut Higher Education Trust loses .4 million in breach

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More than $1.4 million was stolen from 21 Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET) college savings accounts, officials announced Wednesday. It is the first such breach in CHET’s history.

State Treasurer Denise Nappier announced that the money had been stolen from CHET Direct 529 savings plans through a series of 44 unauthorized withdrawals, made after cyberthieves gained access to customers’ online accounts.

TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing Inc. (TFI), the company that manages CHET’s Direct 529 savings plans, first noticed the breach. TFI spokesman Chad Peterson told the Associated Press that the crooks obtained the information used to breach the accounts from an unknown source — not from TFI or CHET.

Of the $1.4 million taken, $442,540 was recovered or stopped, and TFI is replenishing all of the accounts affected, Nappier said in a statement . Affected account holders will also receive two years of free identity fraud protection services, identity restoration services and $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance coverage.

“This is the first time that we are aware of fraudulent account activity in CHET’s 20+ year history, and I am deeply concerned that these criminal activities have impacted CHET account holders,” Nappier said. “Until it happens to you, it’s hard to capture how unsettling it is when personal accounts have been compromised.”

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are investigating the breach. The state Treasury is also conducting an independent audit of fraudulent account activity, and reviewing TFI’s security programs.

“In this era of near daily cyberattacks, we encourage all Connecticut residents to monitor their accounts for any unauthorized or suspicious activity,” Nappier said.

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