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Probe eyes scam involving church workers in Seattle
Catholic News Service

SEATTLE — An investigation is still underway to find out how personal information was obtained from current and former employees and volunteers in the Seattle Archdiocese and used to file fraudulent tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service.

Greg Magnoni, archdiocesan communications director, said forensics experts hired by the archdiocese have joined investigators from the IRS and FBI in attempting to determine how the information was procured.

More than 1,000 current and former employees and volunteers are victims of this tax identity fraud.

A March 31 story by Catholic News Service erroneously reported that the tax fraud affecting people in the Seattle Archdiocese was part of an unprecedented telephone scam currently targeting taxpayers nationwide. The two are unrelated.

In Seattle, investigators still do not know how people's personal information was obtained, Magnoni told CNS April 3. In the phone scam individuals claiming to be an IRS representative call unsuspecting taxpayers and demand immediate payment of back taxes.

Magnoni said the Seattle Archdiocese learned March 4 that an instance of tax identity fraud involving an employee at a school had been reported. Church officials initially thought it was an isolated incident, he said, but as that week progressed officials learned that several people at other sites reported that they, too, were victims.

He said these individuals found out they were victims of fraud when they filed their taxes and were rejected because a return already had been filed using their name and Social Security number. So far, he said, the ongoing investigation has not yet determined how their information was obtained.

"We don't know the source," Magnoni said. "The FBI, the IRS and our own private security firm are still investigating and trying to determine the source."

The archdiocese has established a call center for victims. Information is available online at bit.ly/1fXOePM.

The archdiocese also scheduled a series of six regional meetings with IRS representatives to provide information about tax identify fraud. A seventh meeting was sponsored by a parish. Four meetings have taken place, with a fifth scheduled for April 3, another planned for April 7 and one still to be scheduled. The sites for the meetings were chosen to give as many people as possible in the 28,731-square-mile archdiocese an opportunity to get the information firsthand.

Magnoni said the IRS has been "so gracious" in offering their help and added that regional meetings "have helped immensely."

In an earlier interview, Magnoni told CNS: "We've sent out emails to as many individuals as we could. We've set up special email address to report a problem and encourage people to make sure it is reported to appropriate law enforcement agencies.

"We're doing all that we can to give people an idea of what steps have been taken so far and what steps they can take to protect themselves."

In a March 17 letter, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain confirmed the scam hit employees and volunteers, but could not explain how personal data of those affected was obtained by the scammers.

"The IRS, FBI and our private security firm are each investigating and cooperating with each other. Despite that, at present we simply do not know how the problem originated, whether from our systems within the archdiocese -- including parishes and schools -- or systems of vendors or another outside source," the letter said.

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