Tuesday, January 21, 2014

They are Watching !


I was recently surprised to learn that the IRS’ website,  www.IRS.GOV, has a new feature. You can type in some personal data and download transcripts of your own tax return.  Wondering how well the government website designers had fulfilled this objective (call me a skeptic), I decided to give it a try.

My first attempt went well until I got to the part about establishing an account or proceeding as a guest. Apparently “guest” was the wrong answer. I was booted off the website.

My second attempt got as far as the security questions. I expected them to ask about stuff on the tax returns I submitted. The question I was asked was: in 2005 you may have obtained a loan to purchase a vehicle. Which lender was that with? I was given 4 choices, none of which looked familiar. I chose “none of the above”. Then I was asked how much my monthly payment was. I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday let alone what a car payment was nine years ago. And where does this ever show up on a tax return anyway? The system didn’t like my response and I was bounced out again.

My third attempt got as far as the security questions again. This time I was asked what year my house was built and what did it originally sell for? HUH? I’m not the original owner, so how should I know?  More disturbing, how do they know? My response got me bounced again and locked out for 24 hours. I would have been locked out longer if I could have keyed in what I was thinking...

When private companies access your credit report, they must seek your permission first. Apparently the Federal  government is not so constrained. The take away here is that if your tax return is being examined, you should assume that the examining agent has instant access to data that even you don’t have. If you think you are going to conceal something, think again.

1 comment:

John said...

Another IT solution that must have looked far better on the white board than in reality.

Paul, I am glad you pointe this out. I hope folks realize that this is nothing that new. I can't underscore enough the risks we take when putting information into any computer system. But, life is full of risks and we can't hide in the house all the time.

It's worth pointing out I think, that, "they" are not "watching" in an active sense. Machines are now running all the time with the sole purpose of relating previously disparate data bases. When we encounter this computational magic, it is very unsettling.

Why should we be unsettled?

Identity theft - Yep, real problem. The only solution to that is widely available multi factor biometric sensing systems. This will happen as soon as the financial impact of identity theft hits the financial & retail community hard enough.

In the mean time, we need to use strong passwords and be mindful of what we put out there.

The Man - The fear is that when someone has a motive to look at our records they will be able to see more and more in one picture. Presumably "they" may use that against us.

The reality is that we will be able to do the same thing, for a fee of course. Information can be used offensively and defensively. So we don't end up living in fear of this massive aggregation of our data, we have to remember it is also a tool we can use to make our lives better.

Thanks for the post!