Private Tax Files Stolen From SoCo Accounting Firm

March 20, 2007

By Jeffrey Schaub

The private financial records of thousands of people are potentially at risk for identity theft after thieves stole three years' worth of tax returns from a Santa Rosa accounting firm.

Tax Service Plus has alerted up to 4,000 of its clients that all of their private financial records have been stolen. The records contained Social Security numbers, addresses, credit card information, and documents with signatures.

Authorities say the theft happened on March 7 when someone used a sledgehammer to break through the steel back door of the tax preparer's offices. Then thieves stole the company's backup computer, which contained financial data on thousands of tax returns dating back three years, police said.

"For a tax business, this is our worst nightmare," said Tax Service Plus owner Terry Brown. "That the whole file is in the hands of someone who may want to use the information to use the wrong way is just a nightmare."

Ruben Herrera is one of many stressed out clients of the tax preparer who received letters from the company warning them to cancel credit cards and notify credit bureaus. Worse, he was already the victim of identity theft Last January.

"They stole my wallet with my Social Security (number), my birth certificate, my ATM card, which they used," he said. "Hopefully, whoever is doing it, they'll get busted."

Brown said his company takes precautions to protect its clients' information.

"We have all sorts of safeguards in place to make sure that the information from even one of our customers doesn't get to anybody that it's not supposed to get to," he said.

Fact is data theft and identity theft are big business.

Scott Gaidano, who heads data recovery giant Drive Savers in Novato, said companies can still safeguard data -- even if it ends up stolen -- by having it encrypted.

"What it does is it completely scrambles the data so it looks like a series of numbers and letters until you put in a password," he said.

Tax Service Plus' files were apparently not encrypted.

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