Attention, taxpayers. Not only must you be careful about sharing your personal information with possible con artists, sometimes talking to an official Internal Revenue Service agent also can get you into trouble.
A Massachusetts woman was discussing her overdue tax bill recently with an IRS agent. That agent, however, had the Howard Stern satellite radio show on another phone line. When Stern activated that on-hold call, the agent’s conversation with the taxpayer went live to the millions who listen to the shock jock.
Since the inadvertent public conversation, the woman tells WBZ-TV in Boston, she’s been a nervous wreck. Her phone number was among the personal information that was broadcast, and she says she’s been getting a slew of prank calls.
“We are aware of this troubling situation, and we are currently reviewing the matter,” the IRS said in a statement issued following the phone incident. “The IRS takes the confidentiality of taxpayer information very seriously, and we have high standards that we expect and require employees to follow. When situations arise, we take quick action and work with Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.”
The agent reportedly has been placed on administrative leave while the matter is investigated.
Lessons for all involved
There are a lot of lessons for everyone involved.
For IRS agents, while it might be OK to listen to the radio at work, don’t make calls to any broadcaster from your office phone.
For the IRS itself, consider a phone blocking program along the lines of television parental controls.
For Howard Stern, I know you make your living broadcasting and saying outrageous things, but eavesdropping is not cool, even when it doesn’t involve anything as sensitive as tax info. Next time a caller doesn’t respond, drop the call. Immediately.
For the taxpayer, when you speak to any IRS representative, point blank ask him or her if you and your tax matter are the only thing the agent is focusing on during the call.
While this was an unfortunate and unprofessional occurrence, it underscores the need for taxpayers to be vigilant when safeguarding personal and tax data. Sadly, that vigilance now apparently also extends to conversations with the IRS.
You can get a refresher on basic identity theft precautions in my previous post on tax ID thieves.