Number of Seattle Archdiocese IRS tax fraud victims grows
SEATTLE -- A data breach at the Archdiocese forced two Seattle Catholic schools to cancel classes on Friday as the church and FBI join forces to find the source of the breach.
Students left Bishop Blanchet High School on Friday for early dismissal so staff and teachers could deal with an identity theft issue that's part of a national tax refund fraud.
"It's just one of these - I guess horribly enough - sign of the times that people are trying to hack into anything they can," said Ron Hawk who is the parent of a Bishop Blanchet student.
According to a memo on the Archdiocese website, hackers are using the Social Security numbers of some employees and volunteers to file fraudulent tax returns.
"I had no idea. You see those things come around all the time," said Mike Vila who volunteers at a Catholic school in Seattle.
Vila got an email alert from the Archdiocese about the scam but ignored it until he started hearing other people's stories and warnings.
"I called the IRS and suddenly I discovered I had a tax filing that I didn't do," said Vila.
Vila said the IRS told him someone attempted to use his personal information but they wouldn't tell him if the hacker got a refund.
"I think it's one of those things where once you have people's information you have to take the steps - just like if you were a retailer," said Vila. "The information is no less valuable even though it's an organization like the church. I think you just have to really safeguard that information."
"I was shocked. I had hoped that both the Archdiocese and the school had done a better job of data protection," said Joe Bennett who is the parent of a Bishop Blanchet student.
It's unknown how many people are affected but Vila said the problem is widespread among his clients and friends in the Catholic community.
"Our officer manager here - her kids graduated five years ago from Catholic school and she got hit," said Vila. "I hear more and more everyday of people who are kind of tangentially involved with the Archdiocese and they're getting hit."
Vila provided his Social Security number to the Archdiocese for a background check to volunteer. Next time, he plans to use more caution when giving out personal information.
"I think that people just gotta be aware of where their information is going. If you get an alert, look into it. I was so surprised that I was involved," said Vila.
The Archdiocese is now working with the FBI and hired a forensic security firm to assist.
The principal at O'Dea High School canceled classes on Friday to give teachers and staff time to resolve any fraud issues.
Any volunteers or employees of the Archdiocese are advised to call the IRS to see if your tax identity was compromised.