NEWS

Nonprofit Tax Returns Provide a Gold Mine of Exposed SSNs

By Carlton Purvis

From 2001 to 2011, one unnamed West Coast community development nonprofit published the full names, addresses, SSNs, and payment information for 2,901 recipients, according Identity Finder’s report. Community development programs invest in a number of projects including childcare, sheltering victims of domestic violence, job training, and healthcare.

A recent bulletin from the National Gang Intelligence Center warned of prison gangs seeking tax information to file fraudulent tax returns. Individual gang members will initially file false returns using their own information, operations have expanded to include identity thief of people on the outside—with and without their consent.

Recommendations from Identity Finder are aimed toward nonprofits, their supporters, and the IRS, warning recipients of funding to check whether SSNs are published and calling for organizations to stop including SSNs on tax documents. It also suggests organizations warn those whose numbers have been published. Additionally, “the IRS should publish explicit guidance explaining that SSNs are not to be published on Form 990s,” the report says.

On its Web site, Identity Finder provides a tool to search nonprofits to see if their tax returns contain SSNs. Of the first 25 domestic violence-centered nonprofits listed on Guidestar.org, the online database of nonprofit data, only three contained two or more SSNs from 2001 to 2006.

When using the online tool, anything less than six results is most likely a tax preparer, Feinman said. “Seven or more means there’s a chance there was probably something else going on there.” The SSNs exposed the most were those of tax preparers and scholarship recipients.


photo by Victor1558/flickr
 

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