Abandoned Jackson Hewitt tax office’s returns put customers at risk
Kathleen Pender reports:
A Bay Area woman named Kara got an upsetting call the morning of Oct. 22.
The caller said she had found Kara’s 2007 tax return lying in a pile with hundreds of others on the ground in front of an abandoned Jackson Hewitt tax preparation office at 1734 Divisadero St. in San Francisco.
The tax returns were damp, meaning they had been out at least overnight.
Read more on the San Francisco Chronicle.
There are some interesting aspects to this incident. First, the owner of the building, unable to reach the evicted tenant who was actually responsible for the files, called a shredding company. For that thoughtfulness and responsible behavior, she should be commended. Unfortunately, however, when the company did not show up on time, she took their suggestion to leave bags outside, explaining that she didn’t know what was in them. I do not view her as having any responsibility for those returns, but it was an unfortunate decision.
The real estate broker also took steps to secure the records once he was made aware of the breach. The only parties that do not seem to be taking this seriously enough or taking enough responsibility are the people who actually owned or managed the franchise and Jackson Hewitt itself:
Mayrand confirmed that he was evicted from his former office and moved out Sept. 10. He said he left the boxes and bags behind because “they were so heavy I couldn’t lift them.” He said he “edited” his files and that “every record (left behind) was over four years old.” (So leaving people’s Social Security numbers and dates of birth on recrods over four years old doesn’t pose a risk? – Dissent)
Mayrand said his name was on the lease at the old office but that he only manages the franchise, which is owned by another man, whose identity could not be verified.
Mayrand said the tax returns “shouldn’t have been out there,” but he didn’t feel responsible for them. “As far as I was concerned they were properly disposed of.”
If Mayrand truly felt that the tax returns were properly disposed of, Jackson Hewitt either has not been clear enough in its franchise contracts or is not auditing and educating its franchisees sufficiently because leaving records behind is not “properly disposed of.”
This is not the first breach involving a Jackson Hewitt franchise. I have reported several of them over the years on my blogs. Some included accidents like returns blowing off a truck on their way to disposal or an employee accidentally mixing returns with store coupons that were sent out. But this breach, like the one in October 2010 that involved improper dumping, should concern customers, Jackson Hewitt, and a Congress that has failed to give us a law protecting paper records with sensitive information.