Source: Chronicle of Philanthropy  By Noelle Barton

Many of you are on nonprofit boards or have donated to nonprofits.  Nearly one in five nonprofits publish private Social Security numbers on public tax documents, potentially exposing their supporters and employees to identity theft and other privacy breaches, an examination of federal tax forms has found. Identity Finder, a company that specializes in security and privacy software, reviewed more than three million informational tax returns, known as Form 990s, filed from 2001 to 2006 and found that more than 132,000 charities had published at least one Social Security number on their tax forms.

Most of the Social Security numbers the charities revealed were those of donors, trustees, employees, directors, and scholarship recipients. Slightly more than a third of the Social Security numbers were those of the individuals who prepared the documents, the study found.

“Unlike a credit-card number, Social Security numbers cannot easily be revoked,” Todd Feinman, chief executive of Identity Finder, said in a statement. “Given the seriousness and ubiquity of identity fraud, tax preparers should avoid including [Social Security numbers] on Form 990s.”

The disclosures have been made by some of the nation’s largest charities. A Chronicle review of the tax forms of the 12 top groups on its Philanthropy 400 ranking of charities that raise the most from private sources found three organizations that published the Social Security numbers of at least one individual: Food for the Poor, Schwab Charitable Fund, and the Task Force for Global Health.

Grayson Barber, an advocate for privacy issues, says charities should exercise extreme care in protecting personal information about employees and supporters, in part because they could be liable if that information gets into the wrong hands.

The Internal Revenue Service does not require organizations to include Social Security numbers on the Form 990. Tax preparers are required to provide their personal tax-identification numbers in the form’s signature block, but the instructions state that they should not provide their Social Security numbers in that space. IRS Urged to Step In

Identity Finder says the IRS should inform nonprofits that Social Security numbers are not to be published on Form 990s. It suggests that the tax agency redact any such numbers on the documents before they are released to the public.

The company also advises nonprofits to warn those whose Social Security numbers have been published that they might be at increased risk for identity fraud.

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