Around 170,000 Wisconsin taxpayers will soon open their mailboxes to find their annual state tax packets.
While that's never a welcome mailing, a major mistake makes it even more troubling this year. The Wisconsin Department of Revenue sent out the tax material with the individuals' Social Security numbers printed on the labels.
Hello, Cheeseheads! Your state officials have just made it easier for someone to assume your identity. Any nefarious character between the revenue office and your mail receptacle is welcome to jot down your nine crucial identifying digits, along with your address.
The errant labels were blamed on a computer error. (One benefit of our total dependence on technology: Now machines instead of lower-level, lower-paid employees -- committers of the proverbial "clerical error" -- bear the brunt of office blunders.)
The misprinted forms primarily went/will go to filers who previously used the basic Form 1, long paper form for individuals. Wisconsin taxpayers who filed other forms, used a professional tax prep service or e-filed don't have to worry, at least not about this mailing mess.
The Department quickly issued an apology (nice, but not really much help) and then started spreading the embarrassing word about the financial trouble that the mistake could cause.
"We want to prevent any chance identity theft might occur," department spokeswoman Meredith Helgerson said. In additional to the official "my bad," the agency also promised that steps were being taken "to make sure that this will never happen again."
Cleaning up after the state: If you're reading this from the comfort of your home in Appleton or York or anywhere in between, and you filed
But as concerned (or rightfully angry) as you might be, don't call or log on today; it's too early for any credit criminal mischief related to this messed up tax mailing to show up. Right now, you mainly want to keep an eye on your bills, particularly your credit card statements. Then check out your credit reports. It's a good idea to do so each year anyway, even when your tax officials aren't hanging you out to dry.
One suggestion when you do check your credit reports, don't order all three at the same time. Since you're allowed a free copy from each every year, spread out your requests. That way the Experian report you get in February might come back (we hope) clean, but TransUnion's tracking you get in May could show some questionable activity. When you order Equifax's in September, you'll find out then whether your efforts to clear up the TransUnion issues are working, since the agencies tend to collect and report the same information.
When I was hassling with clearing my credit record after a chick in Houston stole my identity (you can read about my travails here), one of the bureaus never listed the delinquent account. I still don't know how that happened. I just know the whole experience was a pain in the butt and I was lucky. My personal criminal only ran up a relatively small bill (less than $100) before, I'm sure, "becoming" someone else for credit purposes.
And even though the Wisconsin Department of Revenue is blaming computers for this problem, you might want to consider e-filing, since then you won't have to worry about your tax particulars getting manually passed along via the mail system. Check here for information on the state e-file program.
And here's hoping for better tax luck, from Alabama to Wyoming, the rest of the 2007 state and federal filing season!