CEDAR FALLS | A slew of crimes has befallen employees at the University of Northern Iowa as a result of mass identity theft uncovered after they filed tax returns, according to those participating in a public forum Tuesday on campus.
More than 300 faculty, staff and UNI students attended. Many individuals told of white collar crimes involving car loans and tax returns.
UNI President Bill Ruud opened the forum with an apology.
“I will take this opportunity to say I’m sorry. I want to apologize for all the hoops we’re putting you through. I wish there was more we could have done on the front end of it,” said Ruud. “The university is not happy about having its employees' information being shared without permission.”
Experts on computer science, tax fraud investigation and the vice provost for information technology at Iowa State University took turns fielding questions as a panel.
Tom Kunz, a certified public accountant from Bergen Paulsen Inc. of Waterloo who specializes in forensic investigation, assured attendees that their tax returns would eventually be filed correctly even if they’ve been flagged for fraud. But it could take six months to a year for the IRS to process them.
"It takes a long time for the wheels of bureaucracy in the (IRS) to move,” he said.
Since Feb. 5, UNI police have received 147 reports of fraud, according to their crime log. Michael Hager, vice president of administration and financial affairs, said more than 200 people have used the call service set up to answer questions and report tax fraud issues.
Hager said all employees should assume they have been affected and take the necessary steps to secure their identity.
Imam Alam, an associate professor of economics, said he found out someone had filed two applications for car loans in his name.
The loan companies informed him they had his name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, email address and phone number.
Mary Connerley, professor and head of the department of management, said someone filed a tax return in her name and an additional one was filed as a widower, which she is not.
“How long does this go on before we get any sense of closure?” Connerley asked, to applause.
“Once your Social Security number is out, it’s out forever. So you’re talking about tax implications for this year, but that’s not where it ends,” said Paul Gray, a panelist and associate professor of computer science at UNI.
Connerley wanted to know if the university would extend credit monitoring past the 12 months that UNI has purchased it.
Hager said the monitoring service has only been purchased for that period of time, but employees will have access to the fraud department for life.
“I’m not going to promise everybody for a year, but I’m not going to eliminate it as an option,” Ruud added.
UNI officials said that very recent employees don’t seem to be affected.
“We don’t know where this data was compromised. There are very many places inside and outside of UNI this data is housed," Gray said.
That vulnerability has yet to be identified. “We can’t have a conversation of how that can be locked down better until we know,” he added.