A recent audit of the Internal Revenue Service revealed that taxpayers were exposed to “increased risk of fraud and identity theft” after the agency handed private information over to contractors who had not undergone background checks. The Washington Post and WBAY reported that the IRS:

  • Gave a disk containing names, addresses and Social Security numbers of 1.4 million taxpayers to a printer without requiring a background check of any the employees at the company, even those working on the job;
  • Did not ensure backgrounds were done on 12 contracts that required such investigations;
  • Had non-agency personnel working who had not signed nondisclosure agreements.

According to the Post, “IRS policy requires contractor employees to have background checks if they will have access to “sensitive but unclassified” information, which includes the names, addresses and Social Security numbers that the IRS released to its service providers.”

Identity theft is a progressively more common concern for Americans. According to WBAY, the IRS itself has been paying more attention to the matter, citing an increased number of attempts by thieves “trying to fraudulently claim tax refunds using stolen Social Security numbers.”

In response to the report, the IRS stated it has provided more training and clearer guidelines over the last year to address security provisions, including thorough background checks on contractors with access to sensitive information, as well as signing nondisclosure agreements.

Bureaucracy often moves slowly. But in this day and age, with all Americans at risk of identity theft through various measures, it is time to make sure that our private information stays private. All government agencies, not just the IRS, have to make sure that the people who do work for them (both employees and contractors) are trustworthy. Skipping on thorough background checks and glossing over nondisclosure agreements is not the way to build trust.