Did a not-profit’s tax return compromise your identity?

Maribeth Wright | April 19th, 2012

A new study by Identity Finder shows that 18% of non-profit organizations have published social security numbers on their Form 990 tax returns.

But, we all put our social security numbers on our tax returns.  So, what’s the big deal?  Unlike personal income tax returns, 990s are available to the public.  They’re regularly published by the IRS and shared with various grant-making organizations and the public.  Non-profits use 990s for a lot more than just filing taxes – often they submit copies of 990s with grant applications and make them available to donors.  A 990 can tell you a lot about the financial health of an organization; they’re considered the industry standard financial snapshot for non-profit organizations.

Using data mining software, Identity Finder reviewed 2,892,475 990s filed between 2001 and 2006 and found that 132,362 organizations erroneously included social security numbers in their 990s.  These social security numbers belonged to various groups associated with the non-profits, most commonly tax preparers, donors, employees and scholarship recipients.

Thankfully, it seems like the majority of these social security number disclosures may be in the past.  Changes to Form 990 and to the way that tax preparers identify themselves on the returns that they prepare mean that these slips are now much less likely to take place.

However, social security numbers that were released on returns years ago could still come back to haunt you.  Gaining access to social security numbers is often a crook’s first step in identity theft, a problem that can plague victims for years.  With increasingly sophisticated data mining software on the market, available to the good guys and bad guy alike, anything published online (even a social security number) is accessible to anyone who wants to find it.

How can you protect yourself from identity theft?  Like with most problems, the best medicine is preventative.  Take advantage of the opportunity to get a free credit report every year (remember to get it directly from https://www.annualcreditreport.com, not one of the scam sites that offers “free” reports with all kinds of strings attached), make sure to really read all the mail that you get from the financial institutions with which you work and, most importantly, if any thing seems weird, ask!  If your credit card bill contains purchases that you don’t remember making or you see references to an account that you don’t remember creating, talk to you financial professional.  It could turn out to be nothing – but it could also be the tip of an identity theft iceberg.

Contact our Ohio Not-for-Profit specialists

Do you work for a non-profit?  Worried that your organization may have compromised social security numbers?  Afraid that your Form 990 might be giving away too much information?  Contact our Ohio non-profit specialists.  They’ll work with you to make sure that your filings have all the information that they need, and none of the information that they don’t.  Contact Rea & Associates for assistance.

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