Late last week, TurboTax, the online tax return filing software, turned off its state filing feature for all states after the discovery that fraudulent returns had been filed, according to USA Today. Stolen personal data had been used to file fake state returns allowing criminals to claim tax refunds.
TurboTax’s state filing feature has resumed after an investigation found that the fake returns were not a result of TurboTax’s systems, but a result of data stolen elsewhere.
“We are taking this issue very seriously and from the moment it emerged it has been all-hands-on-deck,” says Brad Smith, CEO of TurboTax parent company Intuit. “I am more than pleased we were able to resume transmission for our customers within about 24 hours.”
According to USA Today, two customers from Minnesota logged onto TurboTax to find their state returns already filed, prompting the state of Minnesota to no longer accept electronically submitted filings using TurboTax. In addition, the state of Utah discovered 28 fraud attempts.
The fear of personal data breaches is heightened after last week’s Anthem Health Insurance hack, where the names, addresses, email addresses, social security numbers, and income levels of 80 million people were stolen. According to MarketWatch, this kind of data makes it easy for a criminal to file a fake tax return. Much of this data is sold on the black market in bulk. Criminals will set up in a hotel room and file return after return.
Fraudulent tax returns are all too common. In 2013, the IRS paid $5.2 billion in refunds to fraudulent identities.
An individual’s age, zip code, income level, whether or not they smoke or are pregnant, and more information is now the knowledge of third party websites that will use the information to serve consumers ads online. The Associated Press reports that the website can obtain a computer’s IP address, which, when mixed with other information can locate a person’s address or name. Researchers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have confirmed that sites such as Google, Yahoo, Twitter, YouTube, and many more have received this personal data. The site Doubleclick, which has obtained information, has the ability to match this data up with an already vast collection of online reading and buying habits, thus creating a detailed account of an individual. Healthcare.gov is sending this data even if a user has turned on Do Not Track, according to Gigaom.com. The third party sites are prohibited from using the data for their own use but the Obama Administration did not explain how they would monitor and control the use of the data. Instead, Administration spokesman Aaron Albright said that the government is only using the personal information to create “a simpler, more streamlined and intuitive experience” on Healthcare.gov. (AP) This all comes in the wake of President Obama’s new plans to protect personal data online and make corporations responsible for the data they store. The dangers go deeper than information used to serve advertisements. If one of the third party sites was breached by a hacker, millions of individuals’ private data would be exposed and as the world has seen in recent events, the possibility of this happening is extremely high. “You don’t need all of that data to do customer service,” said Theresa Payton to AP, former White House chief information officer. “We know hackers are just waiting at the door, salivating to get at this data.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends installing Privacy Badger, which will block these third party connections.
The Government, along with social media sights, employ surveillance cameras with facial recognition software to track the publics every move, which is why developer Leonardo Selvaggio
invented the URME
mask. Leo, a Chicago based artist and strong believer in public privacy, came up with the idea after Chicago placed 25,000 cameras with facial recognition around the city. Rather than camouflaging or hiding their identity, the user can simply wear a URME
URME SURVEILLANCE: Indiegogo Campaign from Leo Selvaggio on Vimeo.
The mask is printed with the developers face that “Will track me instead of you and your actions in public space and will be attributed as mine because it will be me the cameras see” said Selvaggio on his blog. This new prosthetic will not only protect your identity, but will help you voice your opinion without the fear of repercussions. The mask is currently still in beta testing, but Selvaggio guarantees a release of the product later on this year. There is a printable paper version of the mask currently available on his online store. Selvaggio is looking for volunteers who are willing to donate their “identities” for his project to create more mask options for the public. But think first before you donate, there is no way of tracking who buys your “identity” and what actions they will use the mask for.