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IRS Warns Against Including SSNs in Form 990

By Michael Cohn
May 12, 2014

As the May 15 deadline approaches for tax-exempt organizations to file the Form 990, 990-EZ and 990-PF, the Internal Revenue Service is warning them not to include Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information in their tax forms.

Filing a 990-series return is important for many groups and they are at risk of losing their tax exemption if they fail to file for three years in a row. However, they should be careful not to include Social Security numbers on Form 990 when filing the form. The IRS also cautions not to include personally identifiable information. Including unnecessary SSNs or other unrequested personal information could lead to identity theft.

Last year, a watchdog group, Public.Resource.org, found a database of tens of thousands of Social Security numbers from people who filed the tax returns for Section 527 campaign committees and other political organizations that the IRS had accidentally posted on the Internet (see IRS Accidentally Exposed Tens of Thousands of Social Security Numbers). The IRS quickly took down the database when the whistleblower group pointed out the error, but two subcommittee chairmen in Congress soon demanded information from the IRS about the security snafu (see Lawmakers Question IRS Chief about Release of Social Security Numbers).

Amid the continuing headlines about the IRS's extra scrutiny of Tea Party groups and other political organizations applying for tax exemptions, the IRS is being extra cautious this year in warning charities, not-for-profits, private foundations and other tax-exempt organizations that file Form 990-series returns to be careful about safeguarding their Social Security numbers and other personal information. The IRS has also released a video on YouTube from an IRS employee explaining the importance of keeping such information away from identity thieves, not to mention congressmen.


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