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Missing tax docs cause for identity theft prevention

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Vandenberg Tax Office reported that documents being collected for shredding were missing from their collection boxes April 9.

The boxes contained draft tax forms and other source materials that were used or created in the process of helping customers during the current tax season. Normally, the documents are temporarily collected before being destroyed, but in this situation they went missing before shredding could occur.

Officials believe it is most likely that someone removed the materials from the boxes as trash. However, law enforcement officials are still investigating to determine whether someone took the boxes in order to commit identity theft or other fraud or if they were mistakenly discarded. If the documents were placed in the trash, they would have been taken to the Vandenberg base landfill, which is a secure location not open to the public.

The missing documents may have contained Privacy Act protected information such as social security numbers, names, addresses, birthdates and account numbers. This information could be valuable to criminals. 

The tax office is working to promptly notify about 1,100 people whose tax returns have been done at the Vandenberg tax office. Only 200 to 300 customers whose returns were completed at the Vandenberg Tax Office are affected, according to the 30th Space Wing Judge Advocate office. Customers are being advised that they can take certain steps to protect themselves and their family.

The customers are also being asked to notify the tax office if any indications of identity theft or fraud occur so a second notice can be sent out to all tax office customers.
Customers with questions regarding this issue are welcome to call the tax office at 606-3650 or the legal assistance office at 605-6200. In addition, the base legal assistance program is available to provide legal assistance to all eligible individuals on a walk-in basis between the hours of 9 and 10 a.m., Monday to Friday, and 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The Federal Trade Commission advises that the key to combating identity theft is early detection and prevention.

Consumers should stay alert for signs of identity theft, such as the following:
(1) accounts they didn't open and debts on their accounts they can't explain;
(2) fraudulent or inaccurate information on their credit reports, including accounts and personal information, like Social Security numbers, addresses, names or initials, and employers;
(3) failing to receive bills or other mail, at which point they should follow up with creditors, because a missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over an account and changed a billing address to cover the tracks;
(4) receiving credit cards that they didn't apply for;
(5) being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate, for no apparent reason; and
(6) getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services they didn't buy.

More information is available on the FTC's identity theft website, located by clicking here.

Additionally, individuals can place a 90-day fraud alert on credit reports. While a fraud alert may cause delays in obtaining new credit, it will cause creditors to make contact before anyone can open any new accounts or making any changes to existing accounts. Once the fraud alert has been posted, consumers are entitled to free copies of credit reports. Customers should review these reports for inquiries from companies they haven't contacted or accounts they didn't open. The alert can be renewed after 90 days. It is only necessary to contact one of the three credit bureaus to place an alert, and that company is then required to contact the other two. The three credit bureaus are Equifax at 800-525-6285, Experian at 888-397-3742 and TransUnion at 800-680-7289.

Those who find fraudulent activity should immediately contact the financial institution to close the fraudulent account or suspend any account that has been tampered with. After notifying the company, consumers should file a police report.