Faculty worry private information hacked to file taxes

University said it did not find an information breach 

Youssef Rddad

A number of University of Minnesota faculty members suspect tax fraud was committed using their personal information, prompting an investigation into a possible data breach.

Sociology professor Rob Warren said about half of the faculty members in his department were unable to file their taxes online and a number of psychology faculty also. But the University said they did not find a data breach in its networks

When some professors went to file their 2014 taxes, they received an error on the Internal Revenue Service’s website that said someone had already filed using their names and social security numbers. Within a few weeks, similar stories among other faculty members emerged, prompting further investigation

The University’s Chief Information Security Officer Brian Dahlin said during the investigation, he was unable to find any specific targeting toward specific departments or the University as a whole.

In a June 7 email to a faculty leader, human resources vice president Kathryn Brown relayed the University’s chief information officer findings, deeming it a, “random criminal activity,” and not a breach of the University’s systems.

“It seems sort of implausible that there hasn’t been some kind of data breach. It’d be incredibly unlikely that it would be a bunch of people from the same department at the same institution,” Warren said.

Some faculty members say they are upset with the University’s response to the incident.

Warren said he still hasn’t received a clear response from administrators months after the they became aware of the fraud cases.

The IRS reported that criminals used stolen information including social security numbers and other personal information to access around 100,000 tax accounts last year.

Criminals falsely file taxes using stolen information in hopes of getting tax returns, according to Minnesota Department of Revenue spokesperson Ryan Brown.