City officials have asked the recipients to destroy the cards, and they’ve already mailed out substitute cards that omit the sensitive numbers.
“Obviously, we’re very sorry and we wish it had never happened,” Mayor Rob Duncan said.
More than 8,000 of the postcards were sent to Norwalk taxpayers, providing them instructions on filling out their income tax returns.
The mailer actually consists of two cards joined together at two perforated ends, with the other two ends unsealed.
On the inside, next to the taxpayer’s name, is the taxpayer’s Social Security number.
In theory, a nosy person could stick a finger in one of the card’s unsealed ends, easily popping it open to read the taxpayer’s name and Social Security number.
But that’s not the only risk.
The mailer is perforated because residents were supposed to tear off one half, stick a stamp on it and place it in the mail.
The mail-back portion, however, is the part that features the resident’s Social Security number front-and-center.
It’s addressed to a P.O. Box in Cleveland, which belongs to a publishing house that sends out tax forms on behalf of the city, Duncan said.
Duncan said the Social Security number does not have any dashes or spaces, so it doesn’t necessarily appear to be a Social Security number. A notice on the city of Norwalk’s website refers to a “printing error” on the cards, and asks taxpayers to destroy them.
Replacement cards already have been sent out, Duncan said.
Norwalk resident Jim Westerhold, 81, a former county commissioner, said some of the cards apparently got stuck together in the mail. “My neighbor’s was in my mailbox, too” he said. “Other people, they got stuck together in the mailbox” Westerhold said he’s worried about how many people had access to the numbers. “What’s the printer doing with those Social Security numbers? Are they safe?” he asked.
Westerhold also wondered whose idea it was to send out the cards with Social Security numbers on them. “This thing had to be planned by somebody” he said. Duncan said he wants to find out what happened, too. “That’s what we’re researching right now” he said.
Said Westerhold: “According to everything I’ve heard over the years, you don’t send out your Social Security number” Indeed, the Social Security Administration has issued a pamphlet, “Identity Theft And Your Social Security Number,” warning people that thieves try to obtain Social Security numbers so they can obtain credit cards in other people’s names. “You should be careful about sharing your number, even when you are asked for it” the pamphlet states. “You should ask why your number is needed, how it will be used and what will happen if you refuse”