IRS Screw-Up Leaks Thousands of Social Security Numbers

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The IRS's bad year just keeps getting worse.

Already dealing with a scandal involving its higher scrutiny of political groups seeking nonprofit status, and the revelation that it claims the power to read taxpayers' emails, the agency is now facing questions about how it wound up leaking the Social Security numbers of thousands of taxpayers.

The issue arose within the agency's searchable database of the filings of tax-exempt political groups, known as 527 Groups. Public.Resource.org, which has led the charge in pushing for greater transparency in the finances of these groups, took the unusual step of actually asking the IRS to take down the databases in question. The problem, it explained, is that the government forgot to redact the Social Security numbers of tens of thousands of individuals involved with those organizations.

The group says it notified the IRS of the oversight on July 2, and the database in question was taken down the next day.

"It is with greatly conflicted feelings that we requested the administration make the political organization database go dark temporarily," says the group. "We understand that this is an essential tool for researchers and even temporary unavailability hurts their efforts. We hope and expect that the administration will act promptly to address the privacy violations and get the database back online."

It's not clear if any identity thieves noticed the screw-up and took advantage before the database was taken down. But it's a good reminder of one of the fundamental truths of identity-theft protection: Even if you do a great job of protecting your data, the various businesses, organizations and groups with which you do business aren't always going to be as careful.

That's why you need to operate on the assumption that your personal data is going to be leaked at some point. Sometimes hackers will get into a website's database of passwords, which is why it's important not to repeat passwords across multiple sites. Sometimes they'll get email addresses which can be used for phishing scams, which is why it's important to treat any email that asks for your personal information with suspicion.

And as the IRS has just shown, sometimes your Social Security number -- one item in the "holy trinity" of identity theft -- can also wind up in the wrong hands, which is why it's important to monitor your bank accounts and sign up for an identity-theft protection service to make sure no one else opens an account in your name.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.


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398 Comments

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siteobserver

How can the IRS regulate Obamacare when they can't keep social security numbers private? Does this mean that the IRS will leak the health records of all Republican, conservative and Christian organizations that oppose Democrats? How can we trust them? Congress needs to get tougher. We need to completely replace ALL INCUMBENTS in both parties because they are not doing their jobs which is to pass laws and budgets, investigate injustice and compromise to get things done which means talking to each other. The current Congress is not doing this and the result is the high level of polarization which resulted in the IRS scandal and others related to polarized behavior. We have to abandon the "us and them" mentality and the only way to do this is to CLEAN HOUSE TOP TO BOTTOM - replace ALL INCUMBENTS in the next election.

July 10 2013 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JOHN

JUST ANOTHER THING WE WILL NEVER GET TO THE BOTOM OF--LIKE ALL OF THE PAST SCANDALS THAT KING OBAMA PROMISED WE WOULD AND KNOW THE OUTCOME.

July 10 2013 at 3:48 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to JOHN's comment
siteobserver

Like Fast and Furious where the ATF sent over 1,000 automatic weapons to MEXICO where they now have a bloodbath using these weapons. By the way, I assume that our government can now be sued for the wrongful death, aiding and abetting any death in Mexico that results from the use of these weapons. This is going to cost billions in wrongful death and negligent homicide lawsuits!

July 10 2013 at 9:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
barbbberg

Could be a warning of what the IRS can do if you mess with them: notice who was targeted this time. Apparently everyone in the IRS has access to our SSN's in any case.

July 10 2013 at 3:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cpenrod

Our Founding Fathers left us the instructions and tools to protect ourselves. The Egyptians just demonstrated how to do it. Well???

July 09 2013 at 7:48 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cpenrod's comment
setanta54s_back

well WHAT ?

is it TIME YET ?
what the hell MORE does anyone need ?

this simply points to the fact THAT "F !" all will happen.

nation buried itself via the libs prOgressives and diMs.

July 09 2013 at 11:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Tim

And they wanna check my taxes for mistakes?

July 09 2013 at 7:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
wrightclan

And they want them to enforce the new affordable heath care boondoggle. AWWWWWWWW H-ll NO!

July 09 2013 at 6:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wrightclan's comment
setanta54s_back

o'bummer hellcare ain't goin nowhere.

but let'smake sure this irs crew IS.

July 09 2013 at 11:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rhymon2000

Try this site for your wanted results--https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/

July 09 2013 at 6:29 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rhymon2000's comment
setanta54s_back

LM@O !
listen.......being WE'RE ALL watched
and certain keywords get our comments PULLED
THEY
MOST
CERTAINLY
ARE INFORMED
and AWARE
THAT
the serfs are PISSED OFF and .......

July 09 2013 at 11:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sonny

Yeah. Get the IRS outof of everything but taxation. Just impossible because they got to know how you got the money.

July 09 2013 at 5:49 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
thescot

And the irs are the jerks who are going to administer health care. Since they have already shown a bias against conservative groups, will conservatives receive the same bias for health care. God help us, it is hitler and nazi germany all over again.

July 09 2013 at 5:04 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Byram B Usiness

and yet another reason to disband the IRS and put in a fair flat tax

July 09 2013 at 4:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Byram B Usiness's comment
theycallmeroy3

Just say flat tax and leave fair out of it. Because its not. But then again neither is the tax code. I hate the word never, cause I just hate the word never. The day a rep- or dem abolishes the IRS, is the day Elvis knocks on my door and wants me to make him a banana and bacon sandwich. Not going to happen, unless there's complete and utter breakdown of society and government and the " lost boys" have control of the keys.
I swear, some of you people won't be happy until you go to your local ATM, and it spits on you. Not you Byram, but you're out there.

July 09 2013 at 4:18 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply