CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — It’s tax time, and a lot of people file online.
However, if you think your information is secure, it may not be, especially if you have a teenager at home who shares music and other files.
One local firm is working to expose identity theft though, and they are also helping people and companies prevent it.
They are a modern-day version of Sherlock Holmes; high-tech sleuths whose magnifying glass is the computer screen. Their archenemy is identity thief, an unseen criminal who is bent on stealing your personal, medical and financial information.
Inside Tiversa in Cranberry, computer scientist Rick Wallace has found a mother-load of tax returns stolen from personal computers throughout the country.
With this information, a thief can file phony tax returns and collect your refund, while using your financial information, your social security number and those of your spouse and children for all kinds of other thefts.
“The IRS will tell you this is a $20 billion fraud per year,” said Robert Boback, Tiversa’s founder. “They don’t publicize that widely because they can’t stop it.”
Boback says the problem is so-called file sharing. These so-called peer-to-peer networks provide a portal for hackers to get all the information off your computer.
“Your electronic tax return, your resume, your personal photos, your social will now be available around the world for people to get, to gain access to,” said Boback.
In the trove of stolen returns are those of several people in our area.
“It was really sickening, quite honestly,” said JaneAnn Fucci, a local identify theft victim.
For years, Fucci filed her tax returns using Turbo Tax. But at the same time, one of her kids was using the computer to share music files.
As a result, they inadvertently exposed those files to a hacker – who has sold the family’s personal information all over the planet.
“It’s been passed to Florida among other places in the United States, as well as overseas,” said Fucci.
Tax returns are only one example of information being stolen.
Computer expert Keith Tagliaferri has found stolen patient information from a doctor’s office – the files were exposed by a third party biller.
“You can see the providers name is listed here, but you can also see the person’s first and last name, their SSN, their phone number, their address, their city,” said Tagliaferri.
Now highly sensitive information regarding those patients is on the black market.
“Were they there for psychological evaluation, there are cancer patients here, there may even be some people here who are HIV positive,” said Tagliaferri.
Tiversa has become a world leader in finding these leaks and plugging them for clients.
“While the FTC will guide you to say that identify thieves are getting your social security numbers out of dumpsters, they’re not. They’re using your computer,” added Boback. “They’re getting your personal information and committing identify theft.”
Meanwhile, Tiversa is working with Fucci to make her files safe and help her defend her credit, but every time she logs on to her home computer she thinks of the bad guys.
“It’s just a reality of today’s world, I guess. Used to be Jesse James and the bank robbers, if you’re riding the train,” said Fucci. “Well, today the internet is the train.”