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UM reacts to possible breach of student Social Security numbers

Thursday, January 21, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 2:49 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 21, 2010

COLUMBIA — About 100 people responded to an e-mail sent Tuesday afternoon notifying students that their Social Security numbers may have been visible in the envelope window of a tax form sent by the University of Missouri System, said Nikki Krawitz, UM vice president of finance and administration.

More than 75,000 Form 1098-Ts were mailed at the end of last week. The four-campus system has no way of assessing how many envelopes displayed the numbers. Form 1098-T is an Internal Revenue Service form that reports tuition billed and paid.“People are concerned as everyone would expect them to be,” Krawitz said. “They are expressing their frustration and asking for guidance.”

For those concerned

The UM system makes these suggestions to those concerned about invasion of privacy:

Contact a national credit agency:

 

Experian: 888-397-3742

Equifax: 800-525-6285

TransUnion: 800-680-7289.

 

*The university has an existing agreement with Experian to provide credit monitoring services at a discounted price.

 

Go to http://www.umsystem.edu/ums/departments/hr/benefits/credit.shtml

http://www.umsystem.edu/ums/departments/hr/benefits/credit.shtml

http://www.umsystem.edu/taxformnotice/

 

Send an e-mail with questions to:

 

UMTaxFormNotice@umsystem.edu

 



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Campus Mail Services committed the folding errors but Krawitz said the system is reviewing the entire process. She said concerned students and parents should look into credit monitoring services, such as Experian, that offers a reduced monthly rate of $3.46 to faculty, staff, retirees and students in the system. The UM System also has consistently encouraged students and employees to take advantage of a free service at www.annualcreditreport.com, Krawitz said.

Columbia resident Rex Cone received Form 1098-T in the mail Friday for taking a class fall semester. He said his Social Security number was printed above his name and could be seen through the envelope window.

“I was originally stunned,” Cone said. “It was so blatant — Student Social Security Number — boom!”

Cone’s calls to the University of Missouri Taxpayer Relief Hotline did not go through on Friday. He made three more calls the next day that did not go through. A cashier’s office representative told him that the problem was a folding error. An accounting services representative told Cone that a supervisor would be notified.

Cone, who already monitors his credit, is not concerned but still felt the error needed to be reported.

“I was not as concerned for myself as I was for students who are not monitoring their own credit information,” Cone said.

Cone said a friend's form was sent to the friend's parents' former residence, which could place his friend at a higher risk for identity theft.

Krawitz said the UM System Social Security Number Remediation Project will help ensure that this problem does not happen again. The project was formed more than a year ago in the hopes of removing Social Security numbers from as many information systems as possible. Next year all tax forms will only contain the last four digits of Social Security numbers.

The project aims to move away from using Social Security numbers as an identifying factor to keep people's information secure, Krawitz said.

“It’s a comprehensive project meant to change the way we store information into our system so we can better protect this kind of information,” she said.

Cone noticed that on his 1099 tax forms, his Social Security number is labeled as a “tax ID number” and that many companies print their statements on larger paper so that folding errors are less likely. The forms are records of income from businesses and share a similar format to Form 1098-T.

The placement of Social Security numbers has been changed on some tax forms, such as the W-2 form, but has not yet been changed on Form 1098-T, Krawitz said.

In 2007, a computer hacker stole the names and Social Security numbers of more than 20,000 UM System employees by accessing an unused database. UM officials urged affected employees to notify creditors and also suggested Experian’s credit monitoring services.

A Missourian reporter called the University of Missouri Taxpayer Relief Hotline, which worked, and was directed to http://cashiers.missouri.edu/tra97.htm or a student representative.


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Comments

Brad Hinz January 21, 2010 | 2:26 p.m.

Why is it our responsibility to take care of their mistakes? First, whoever was supposed to monitor the mailing should be removed. Then, UM should provide free credit monitoring to anyone that received this mailing.

Don't make me responsible for your negligence!

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