A local accounting firm has alerted its 4,000 clients that their private financial records -- including Social Security numbers, addresses, credit card information and signature documents -- have been stolen.Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Tax Service Plus told authorities that thieves stole the business’s back-up computer on March 7, which contained data on thousands of tax returns filed over the past three years.

Terry Brown, who has owned the tax prep firm for the past 15 years, described the situation to local newspapers as being his, “worst nightmare,” and is expecting to lose a number of customers following the incident, although any misuse of the information has yet to actually be reported.

Brown mailed a form letter recommended by the Federal Trade Commission to all of his clients, urging them to notify one of the national credit card bureaus of the theft and have fraud alerts placed on individual accounts.

The thieves appear to have used a sledgehammer to break through the steel back door of Tax Service Plus’s office, but left behind the firm’s other six computers which also contained confidential information.

Brown said his company takes precautions to protect its clients' information, but it was not apparent from local reports whether or not the stolen computer’s files were encrypted. The business also did not have a burglar alarm, although Brown told Santa Rosa’s The Press Democrat that he would soon be investing in a security system.

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