Avoiding Scams During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During this time of crisis, it’s important to be on the alert for those who would attempt to defraud you or your family. Here are some consumer warnings and safety tips from the Federal Trade Commission:  

  • Ignore offers for vaccinations and home test kits. Scammers are selling products to treat or prevent COVID-19 without proof that they work.
  • Be wary of ads for test kits. Most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate.
  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
  • Beware of emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card or by wiring money.
scams

Reliable Sources of COVID-19 Information

Only rely on trusted sources for information about COVID-19. Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know. Here are some good online sources:

Reporting Fraud

If you are a victim of fraud, the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection may be able to help. You can call their Consumer Helpline at 1-800-697-1220 or visit their website.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, is the federal agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting fraud schemes related to natural and man-made disasters. Call 1-866-720-5721.

You can report allegations of fraud involving New York State taxpayer money to the Office of the New York State Comptroller. Call 1-888-672-4555 or report government fraud online.

Protecting Your Identity Online: Tips for Secure Passwords

Secure Passwords

The rules for password creation have changed in recent years, so you may have to unlearn some of the things you’ve been taught in the past about secure passwords.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the federal agency that created the original password guidelines, recently revised those guidelines. Its current recommendations are based on research on both the habits of users and the techniques of hackers. Here are some of their findings:

  • Length is a major factor in a password’s strength, so the longer the password, the better.
  • Complex passwords, with a mix of character types, are hard for people to remember, and do little to deter hackers.
  • Strong passwords can be created from short phrases that are easy for you to remember, but would be meaningless to anyone else.
  • Passwords may be used indefinitely as long as they’re strong and have not been compromised. Obviously, if you have an account with a company that just had a data breach, you’ll want to change that password.

Other Ideas on Secure Passwords

Changing passwords every 30, 60 or 90 days was recommended for thwarting hackers, but some security experts now question that tactic. Changing passwords on a regular schedule may have little security value and can lead to bad habits. Research has shown that people tend to make only minor changes when updating their passwords or create weak passwords that are easier for them to memorize. You’re better off creating a strong password, memorizing it and holding on to it.

While NIST has changed some of its guidelines, some of the old ones still apply. Don’t share your secure passwords with anyone, or leave them on sticky notes by your computer. Create unique passwords for important accounts, such as your bank account and your email, and avoid bad passwords such as “password,” “12345678,” “qwerty” and “iloveyou.”

Woman looking out window

Important Information for Furloughed NYSLRS Members

Unfortunately, the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in record growth in unemployment. If you are a NYSLRS member who finds yourself out of work or furloughed (on an authorized leave of absence or temporarily laid off), you may find the following information helpful.

Woman looking out window

What Happens to Your NYSLRS Loan?

If you have an outstanding NYSLRS loan and are furloughed from your job, you can defer payments until you go back to work, provided you return to work within one year.

You still must repay your loan within the original five-year repayment period. When you return to work, your loan will be recalculated and your minimum payment will be increased to ensure your loan balance is paid off on time. Interest will still accrue during the deferment, and the added interest will be included in the recalculation.

In order to receive this deferment, you must have your employer send a fax to us (518-486-9877), on their letterhead, indicating the date your furlough began and when they predict it will end.

You can find more information about managing your NYSLRS loan payments in our recent blog post.

Leaving Public Employment

If you leave public employment and are not yet ready to retire, you may want to read our booklet What If I Leave Public Employment? This booklet describes your rights as a NYSLRS member and tells you how to claim any benefits you are entitled to when it comes time for you to retire.

If you decide that this is a good time to retire, you should be aware that you can now apply for retirement online. This new Retirement Online feature makes applying for retirement faster and easier than ever before. 

COVID-19 Information

We’ve compiled on our website a number of articles and updates about the COVID-19 emergency that you may find helpful. Here you will find information about enhanced death benefits for survivors of COVID-19 victims, filing for retirement benefits during the pandemic and what you can do to protect your loved ones if you become seriously ill.

Enhanced Death Benefit for Survivors of COVID-19 Victims

COVID-19 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths across New York State. Sadly, the pandemic’s victims include NYSLRS members who carried out their essential duties despite personal risk.

The families of these selfless members can take some comfort in knowing that they may be eligible for enhanced death benefits. Recently enacted legislation provides certain beneficiaries of public employees who contract COVID-19 on the job and die from COVID-19 with an accidental death benefit.

father holding son

Most NYSLRS members are eligible for a death benefit if they die while in service; this “ordinary death benefit” provides a member’s designated beneficiary or beneficiaries a single, lump sum payment, worth up to three years’ salary. Alternatively, an “accidental death benefit” may be available to certain beneficiaries if the member’s death is a result of an on-the-job accident. The NYSLRS accidental death benefit is a pension paid to beneficiaries that are defined in statute, first to a surviving spouse, if no spouse to dependent children, then to dependent parent(s).

Generally, the accidental death benefit is equal to 50 percent of the member’s final average salary or last year’s salary depending on the retirement plan the member is enrolled in. You can find your retirement plan information on our Publications page. In addition to the accidental death benefit, a special accidental death benefit may also be payable to a member of the New York State and Local Police and Fire Retirement System.

“This new law is an important step toward protecting public workers who are on the front lines fighting the coronavirus and helping their communities,” said New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. “If something happens to them, they deserve their retirement benefits and the peace of mind that their families are provided for.”  

Eligibility Requirements

A NYSLRS member’s statutory beneficiary would be eligible for the accidental death benefit if the member:

  • Worked at either their normal workplace or another assigned workplace, not their residence, as directed by their employer, on or after March 1, 2020;
  • Contracted COVID-19 within 45 days of the last day that the member reported for work;
  • Died on or before December 31, 2020; and
  • Died from COVID-19 or COVID-19 caused or contributed to their death.

The COVID-19 benefit also applies to members who were working as of March 1 but have since retired prior to July 1, 2020. If a member met the eligibility requirements above, but died after retiring, their statutory beneficiary will have the option of converting the service retirement benefit or disability retirement benefit to an accidental death benefit.

The COVID-19 benefit would be available for all NYSLRS members (Employees’ Retirement System as well as Police and Fire Retirement System members), regardless of job title, or tier. The legislation is effective through December 31, 2020.

How to Claim the Benefit

When someone calls NYSLRS to report a death, they should let us know it was COVID-related. We’ll also ask for an original death certificate. We will then reach out to the beneficiary to assist them in claiming the benefit. For the COVID-19 death benefit, NYSLRS will confirm with the employer the dates that the member reported to work and request the required documentation showing COVID-19 as the cause of death. The COVID-19 death benefit will be reduced by any ordinary death benefits paid out to a beneficiary by NYSLRS.

NYSLRS Loans Using Retirement Online

Most members can get a NYSLRS loan using Retirement Online. Loan eligibility requirements are based on your tier, but generally, you’ll need to be on the payroll of a participating employer, have at least a year of service and have a certain amount of contributions in your account. Retirement Online will provide the eligibility information you need as you step through the application process.

woman using computer at home

Getting Started

Retirement Online is the fastest way to get a NYSLRS loan. It’s also an easy way to find out your current loan balance, the amount you are eligible to borrow and more. To get started, Sign In to your account or Register if you don’t already have an account. (If you have any trouble signing in or registering, check the Tools & Tips section of the Retirement Online page for help.)

The Application Process

Once you’ve signed in, scroll down to “My Account Summary.” Under “I want to…” click the green “Apply for a Loan” button and follow the prompts.

As you work your way through the online application, you’ll see how much you can borrow, the minimum repayment amount, the expected payoff date and how much you can borrow without tax implications.

NYSLRS loans are exempt from New York State and local income taxes. However, the Internal Revenue Service may consider all or part of a NYSLRS loan taxable in some cases – for instance, if you borrow above certain limits. The Retirement Online loan application will show you the maximum amount you can borrow without tax implications. 

If you already have a loan and you want to take another loan, you can take multiple loans or refinance an existing loan. Taking a new loan (the multiple loan option), minimizes your potential tax consequences. Your minimum payment will be higher, but you will pay off your loans faster than you would by refinancing. Refinancing adds the new loan amount to your existing balance and spreads the entire balance over a new five-year term. Your payment will be lower but your tax consequences may be significantly higher.

Repaying Your Loan

Loan payments will be deducted from your paycheck. You can choose the minimum payroll deduction, which would pay off your loan in five years, or you can choose to pay more than the minimum to pay off your loan sooner. The payment calculator in Retirement Online will provide your expected payoff date if you enter an amount higher than the minimum.

If you already have loan from NYSLRS, during this time of economic uncertainty you may be considering whether you can defer your NYSLRS loan payment.

If you are furloughed or on an authorized leave of absence with your employer, the IRS allows for the suspension of loan payments for up to one year from the date your leave began or until you return to the payroll (whichever occurs first). To receive this deferment, have your employer send us a fax (518-486-9877) on their letterhead that indicates the date your leave began and when they expect it will end.

It’s important to note that if you defer your loan payments during an authorized leave of absence, your payments will need to be recalculated and increased upon your return. This will ensure your loan will be paid off within the five-year period.

For more information, please read our blog post, Managing Your NYSLRS Loan Payment.

More Information

For more information, including how retiring with an outstanding loan would affect your pension, visit our Loans page. If you need help with the self-service loan application, click ‘Help’ at the top of the page. Then click next to ‘Requesting a Loan’ and select the guide that best fits your situation. Retirement Online is generally available from 7:00 am to 9:30 pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm on Tuesday; and from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm, on Saturday and Sunday.

Estimate Your Pension in Retirement Online

Most NYSLRS members can now create their own pension estimate in minutes using Retirement Online.

A Retirement Online estimate is based on the most up-to-date account information we have on file for you. You can enter different retirement dates to see how those choices would affect your benefit. When you’re done, you can print your pension estimate or save it for future reference.

man at computer

How to Create Your Pension Estimate

Before you can use the new pension calculator, you will need a Retirement Online account. Once you sign in, go to the My Account Summary section of your account homepage and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button.

You can enter an estimated retirement date (or retirement age), your current salary and expected annual salary increases. You can also include any service credit you plan to purchase and anticipated lump sum payment for unused vacation. If you add the birthdate for a beneficiary, you’ll also see the estimated monthly payment you would receive if you were to choose a payment option that provides a benefit for a survivor.

Any pension estimate you generate with the online calculator would be an approximation of your potential benefit; it is not a guarantee that you’ll receive a certain amount when you retire.

Alternative Ways to Get an Estimate

While more than 90 percent of NYSLRS members (most Tier 3 through 6 members) can use the new benefit calculator, some members should have NYSLRS generate their benefit estimate.

For example, if you recently transferred your membership to NYSLRS or are covered under certain special plans, it would be better if NYSLRS created an estimate for you. The system will notify you if your estimate cannot be completed using Retirement Online’s estimate tool. Please contact us to request a pension estimate if you receive this notification. Also, if you are in Tiers 1 through 4, you can still use the Quick Calculator on the NYSLRS website. The Quick Calculator generates estimates based on information you provide.

Stay-At-Home Tips During the COVID-19 Emergency

As the COVID-19 emergency continues, many of us are staying home and practicing social/physical distancing to reduce the spread of the virus. Staying home is especially important if you are an older adult, have a chronic health condition, or are immunocompromised.

Here are some tips on getting the help and services you need while limiting your time out of the house. And if you must leave your house, follow these steps to protect yourself and others from the coronavirus.

COVID-19 emergency

Online Banking and Direct Deposit

Many banks have closed or limited the open hours of their branch locations, and are encouraging their customers to use online banking. Online banking allows you to monitor your account balances and pay bills from home. Certain mobile banking features can also allow you to deposit checks using a smartphone. Visit your bank’s website or call your bank’s customer service line to see what services are available.

This is also a good time to arrange for the direct deposit of incoming funds (such as your NYSLRS pension or your paycheck) to your bank account.

If your bank offers a drive-thru or walk-up ATM, the CDC recommends that you clean the ATM keyboard or screen with an antiseptic wipe before using it, and to wash your hands thoroughly after making transactions.

Online Grocery Shopping and Special Shopping Hours

Depending on where you live, your local grocery chain may offer online shopping. Visit your grocery store’s website to see what services are available. They may offer home delivery, where a delivery driver can leave your groceries at your door, or curbside pick-up, where you can pick up your order without needing to leave your car.

Your grocery store may also offer special shopping hours for older or other at-risk customers. If you are unable to place an online order, visit the store’s website or call ahead to see if there are special hours.

Virtual Doctor Appointments

Appointments with your doctor are important to keep, but in some instances, you or your doctor may want to postpone upcoming appointments for you or members of your family. Fortunately, some offices are now offering telemedicine visits as an alternative to in person appointments. Telemedicine visits can take the form of phone calls or video chats with your doctor or another healthcare professional. Visit your doctor’s office website or call ahead to see if this option is available to you.

Your health insurance company may also offer some information about telemedicine. Here are several New York health insurance providers who offer telemedicine resources:

If your doctor wants you to come to the office, be sure to ask about and follow any safety measures they’ve put into place. These safety measures are meant to protect you and your family, medical staff, and other patients.

And Your Pets Too!

Your pets may have medical appointments of their own to keep. Call your veterinarian to see if and how they are accepting pets or prescribing medicine during this time. In some instances, they may ask you to stay in the car while they take your pet inside for treatment.

The CDC offers additional information about keeping your pets safe during the COVID-19 emergency.

Getting Help from the Local Community

Stay in touch with what your local community is doing during the COVID-19 emergency. You can check community websites, social media groups, and local news outlets to see what services are being offered to seniors or at-risk adults. Other community resources, like reputable volunteer organizations, may also be available to assist you.

For more information about running errands during the COVID-19 emergency, visit the CDC’s website. If you live in New York, stay up to date on statewide initiatives by visiting the NY Department of Health’s website.

Your Member Annual Statement

Your Member Annual Statement includes valuable information about your NYSLRS membership and benefits that can help you plan for retirement. You can view your 2020 Statement right now by signing into Retirement Online. If you don’t already have an account, you can register today.

From your Retirement Online Account Homepage, go to the ‘My Account Summary’ area of the page, click the “View My Member Annual Statement” button and follow the steps. You will also be able to print or save your Statement.

member reading 2020 Member Annual Statement

Delivery of Your Member Annual Statement

NYSLRS members who chose email delivery of their Statement in Retirement Online received an email informing them that their Statement is available online. All other members will receive their 2020 Member Statement in the mail by the end of June.

New Look for 2020

This year’s Member Annual Statement has a new, streamlined look that presents your benefit and membership information in a clear, comprehensive and easy-to-read format. Some information, such as detailed pension estimates and five years of employment history, was removed from your Statement because you now have access to it in Retirement Online. Your Statement provides you with information as of March 31, but Retirement Online provides you with the most up-to-date information available.

Pension Estimates: Most members can create customized pension estimates and calculate their benefit options using Retirement Online. From your Account Homepage, scroll down to ‘My Account Summary’ and click the “Estimate my Pension Benefit” button. You can base your estimate on the salary and service information we have on file or adjust your earnings or service credit to account for possible increases in earnings or purchases of service credit. By entering different retirement dates and beneficiaries, you will see how your choices affect your potential benefit. If you are not able to use the Retirement Online calculator, contact us for an estimate.

Employment History: You can also view your employment history and reported earnings in Retirement Online. From your Account Homepage, scroll down to ‘My Account Summary’ and click the “View my Employment Summary” button. If you find that part of your employment history is missing, you can request credit for the missing service. Return to ‘My Account Summary’ and click the “Manage My Service Credit Purchases” button.

Address Change: To view or update your account information, sign in to Retirement Online. On your Account Homepage, ‘Under My Profile Information,’ you will be able to update your address and other contact information, instead of mailing in a paper form.

Update Your Delivery Preference for Next Year

Want to be notified by email next year when your Statement is ready? Sign in to Retirement Online to change your Statement delivery preference. Go to the ’My Profile Information‘ section on your Retirement Online Account Homepage, click “update” next to ‘Member Annual Statement By,’ then choose “email” from the dropdown menu.

Have Questions About Your Statement?

Remember, your 2020 Statement provides your account information as of March 31, 2020. To view your current membership information any time throughout the year, sign in to your Retirement Online account.

If you have questions about your Member Annual Statement, please visit our Member Annual Statement page.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 emergency continues, police and healthcare professionals are reporting an increase in domestic violence. With many of our one million NYSLRS members and retirees now being asked to stay home, we want to help keep you safe. If you are in an abusive relationship, or fear your situation may turn violent, there is help.

domestic violence

You don’t have to stay in a dangerous environment. Safe shelter is available. 

Here are some resources:

Because abuse victims are often closely watched by their abuser, New York State has launched a new texting program and confidential service to help New Yorkers experiencing domestic violence.

Text 844-997-2121 or visit www.opdv.ny.gov to confidentially chat with a professional at any time of day or night.

New York State Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-942-6906
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “Got5” to 741-741.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

  • 1-800-799-7233
  • TTY 1-800-787-3224 (for the deaf or hard of hearing)
  • If it is not safe for you to call, you can live chat online at thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat.
  • Or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.

If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Your Pension Fund is Strong
Your Pension is Secure

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic uncertainty as well as a public health emergency. Businesses are struggling, more people are unemployed, and markets are volatile. Yet among all the uncertain news we seem to hear daily, there is something NYSLRS members and retirees can have confidence in: your Retirement System and pension fund are strong and secure.

Since it was established in January 1921, NYSLRS has proven its strength and durability. Over the past century, the Retirement System has weathered the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Dotcom bubble burst of 2001, the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and more than a dozen other economic downturns. Each time, NYSLRS recovered and emerged stronger than before.

pension fund

Investing for the Long Term

The New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds and invests the Retirement System’s assets, has been impacted by this largely unprecedented crisis, but the Fund remains strong. While weighing the risk and benefit of every investment, the Fund employs a diversified investment strategy that is designed for the long-term, allowing it to take advantage of growth opportunities in good times, which helps it to better navigate through hard times.

NYSLRS entered the current crisis in a position of strength. Independent analysts, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, have long recognized NYSLRS as one of the best-managed and best-funded public retirement systems in the nation. The strength of the Fund provides stability and enhances its ability to recover from market swings.

In recent months, before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Fund’s professional managers recognized increased volatility in the stock market. The managers made adjustments in the Fund’s investment portfolio in preparation for an expected economic downturn and are actively managing the Fund through these difficult times. The Fund has more than enough assets to pay retiree benefits.

What This Means for You

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has a fiduciary responsibility to manage the Fund’s assets on behalf of NYSLRS members and retirees. Protecting the Fund is the Comptroller’s number one priority. As a NYSLRS member or retiree, your lifetime retirement benefits are guaranteed by the State constitution, and those benefits cannot be diminished.

NYSLRS continues to be well-positioned to meet both its short-term and long-term obligations. If you are already retired, you will continue to receive your pension payments on schedule. If you are a member, your pension will be there for you when you retire and throughout your retirement years.

We’ve faced similar challenges in the past. We will get through this one.