University faculty worry private information hacked to file taxes

by Youssef Rddad

A number of University of Minnesota faculty members suspect criminals have committed tax fraud 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, along with several faculty members in the psychology department. But University officials said they did not find a data breach in its networks.
 
Warren said 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 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.
 
Still, some faculty members say they aren’t satisfied with the University’s response to the incident.
 
Warren said he hasn’t received a clear response from administrators. He said he filed his taxes through the mail when he ran into problems filing online. 
 
“It seems sort of implausible that there hasn’t been some kind of data breach,” he said. “It’d be incredibly unlikely that it would be a bunch of people from the same department at the same institution.”
 
The IRS reported that criminals used stolen information including social security numbers and other personal information to access about 100,000 tax accounts last year.
 
Minnesota Department of Revenue spokesperson Ryan Brown said criminals falsely file taxes using stolen information in hopes of getting tax returns.