VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Hackers have apparently stolen Social Security numbers from a database for the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, affecting teachers and volunteers at Catholic schools and churches in Western Washington.
Someone has been filing false tax returns and taking refunds.
KOIN 6 News spoke with two people in Clark County who were directly affected.
Sisters Susan and Diane, who did not want their identities revealed, told KOIN 6 News the person who tried to file tax returns using their Social Security numbers got rejected before money was actually sent.
But they are still concerned.
“I don’t blame my church, I don’t blame my parish or the archdiocese,” said Susan. “I blame the idiot who did this.”
“I don’t konw how this is going to impact Social Security or Medicare down the road since they have my Social Security number,” Diane said. “There were six attempts to file with my Social Security number but all six attempts were denied.”
Both sisters volunteer or work at Our Lady of the Lourdes Catholic parish in Vancouver, one of the 170 parishes in western Washington with victims of the breach.
Other victims returns were not rejected and refunds were sent to the wrong person. Clearing up the confusion takes months.
“What they have to do is send in a special form with their legitimate tax return that includes a copy of either their driver’s license, a passport or birth certificate, and then the IRS will go through whatever process they need to,” Susan said.
Victims and concerned church members packed St. Rose in Longview to hear from the experts what happened and what’s being done.
IRS Special Agent-in-Charge Kenneth Hines said most people find out they’re affected when they file their tax return.
He also said while there are safeguards in place to prevent tax fraud, there has been a 66% increase in this specific type of fraud.
KING reports two Catholic high schools in Seattle changed their schedules on March 14 so the staff could deal with the threat of identity theft.
The Daily News reports at least 10 teachers and some volunteers at St. Rose Catholic Church and schools in Longview are among potential victims. One teacher said her tax return was rejected because she was told it had already been filed.
The breached data was used to do background checks on employees and volunteers affected more than 90,000 people.
In a letter posted on the diocese website, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said, in part:
“After learning of the problem, we immediately notified the IRS and FBI and acted to inform employees, volunteers and the public. We also created this tax fraud resource site to provide information about steps that can be taken.
“At this time, we can confirm only that some employees and volunteers of the archdiocese have been victims of tax identity fraud, and that such fraud scams are a national problem that has apparently been going on for sever al years and is now impacting our community.
“The IRS, FBI and our private security firm are each investigating and cooperating with each other. Despite that, at present we simply do not know how the problem originated, whether from systems within the archdiocese, including parishes and schools, or systems of vendors, or another outside source.”
The Archdiocese of Seattle also set up an Action Alert page for people who think they may be affected.
The Associated Press contributed content to this report.