INDIANAPOLIS -- Right now, your W-2 form is likely in the mail as tax season is about to start. But Monday, Call 6 Investigates received a tip about people's tax returns instead found in a dumpster behind a strip mall.
Call 6 Investigator Paris Lewbel found documents with people's addresses and Social Security numbers in a dumpster. Some were even blowing around on the ground.
"My mouth dropped. I was just totally amazed," said Holly Dooley, who found the documents Monday afternoon. "It was pure shock. I couldn't believe that people … tax people of all people should know better and throw that away."
Police won’t be able to charge anyone with a crime because there are no local or state laws that prohibit the dumping of tax documents or documents with social security numbers on them (there are different state laws for medical forms).
However, the Indiana Attorney General's office has opened an investigation into the dumped documents, and issued the following statement Tuesday:
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office is working with IMPD and RTV6 to obtain the documents as soon as possible so that they can be properly secured, and the AG’s Office can launch an investigation into this breach and assist impacted individuals. The Attorney General’s Identity Theft Unit will investigate this breach to determine how these files came to be discarded and who is responsible. The AG’s Office can pursue enforcement actions for violations of Indiana’s Disclosure of Security Breach law (IC 24-4.9). The AG’s Office will work with impacted individuals and urge that proactive steps be taken to reduce potential fraud, for example signing up for a free credit freeze at www.IndianaConsumer.com. More tips on guarding against identity theft can be found here: http://in.gov/attorneygeneral/2853.htm.
Additionally, all Hoosiers should file their taxes as soon as possible to deter tax fraud, where a criminal uses someone else’s information to file taxes and claim refunds. The Attorney General’s Identity Theft Unit works collaboratively with the Indiana Department of Revenue to address tax fraud. Tax fraud should be immediately reported to the IRS’s Identity Protection Specialized Unit. The unit can be contacted toll-free at 1.800.908.4490 or for more information visit www.irs.gov and enter keywords “identity theft.” Victims can also file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office by visiting www.IndianaConsumer.com or calling 1.800.382.5516. Victims who file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office will receive educational materials and guidance on what action steps to take to mitigate harm.
Because of the risk of identity theft or other fraud, private individuals who happen upon abandoned records or sensitive personal identifying information are asked to call the Indiana Attorney General’s Office without delay at 1-800-382-5516. The longer that personal identifying records remain unsecured and not in State custody, the greater the potential risk that they could fall into the wrong hands and be misused. By law, the Attorney General’s Office takes charge of such records, and our office has the resources and expertise to assist patients named in such files.
Two employees at a nearby tax preparation service – the only one in the same strip mall – said they didn't know anything about documents being thrown away.
A woman whose address appeared on one of the tax forms declined to appear on camera, but said she did have her taxes done at the same tax service.
According to the IRS' website, once taxpayer information is no longer required, it must be returned to the taxpayer or properly disposed of – which includes burning or shredding the data.
The Indiana Department of Revenue has this advice:
Research the reputation of the company or tax preparer:
- Check to see if there is any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state's board of accountancy for CPAs or the state's bar association for attorneys
- Check the IRS website for a list of approved preparers
- Check to see if the preparer has a proper Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) from the IRS
- Check with the Indiana CPA Society or the Indiana Society of Enrolled Agents for quality, qualified tax preparers
Avoid seasonal 'pop-up' tax serve providers.
Ask the tax preparer/tax filing service provider about the security measures they take to protect taxpayer data
- Do they keep your paper-based tax information in locked containers?
- Do they encrypt the data on the computers they use to protect your data?
- If they no longer need your paper-based tax information, how do they dispose of this information?