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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Your accountant can no longer sell your social security number to Russian hackers

Posted By on Thu, Jan 3, 2008 at 11:50 AM

click to enlarge al_sheedakim_hacker_and_programmer.jpg

Has the government "lost" more identities than guys like this steal?

by Benjamin Wachs

Yesterday was a good day for privacy activists, but 2008 is shaping up to be the year when a video of someone stealing your identity shows up on YouTube.

Until yesterday, your tax preparer could use the information you gave him to try and sell you products or predatory loans.

Yeah, I was a little surprised to find out too.

But new IRS rules are supposed to solve those problems and, as an added bonus, prevent tax preparation services that send tax returns overseas from including Social Security Numbers. Because underpaid community college trained accountants in Bengal really don’t need to know that.

Also yesterday the Governator announced that California will have the nation’s first anti-identity theft agency – the California Office of Information Security and Privacy Protection.

But both measures may be adding a 4 foot glass barrier after the tiger has already left the zoo, since the Washington Post reports that Social Security Numbers are readily available to the public … on government websites.

“The crown jewel in identity theft -- the Social Security number -- can be mined easily in the government's own records, creating a measure of social insecurity for millions,” the Post notes.

Meanwhile yet another government laptop containing citizen information … this time from the Minnesota Department of Commerce … was stolen and not reported for almost a month.

No statistics are available, but based on these reports is it possible that more personal information has been lost or released by the government … through laptop accidents, posting of private information on official documents, and absurdly lax regulation … than has been “stolen” by enterprising young hoodlums?

If that’s the case … or even close to it … then we may need to rethink our approach to identity theft: it most cases it might not be so much a premeditated act as a crime of opportunity … I mean, if Washington dangles social security numbers out there and Minnesota keeps losing laptops, are we surprised that somebody bites?

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Benjamin Wachs


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