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Florida school district targeted in identity theft scheme

An identity theft scam targeting a school district in southern Florida has claimed several victims and left thousands more exposed to fraud.

The problems started in early February. A hacker posing as the superintendent of the Manatee County School District sent an email to a payroll employee, requesting W-2 forms for all the district's workers. As reported in the Bradenton Herald, the employee responded by "sending a PDF file containing all 7,700 W-2s for those" under the district's employ in 2016.

A number of related frauds have already taken place. Several workers have reported that they were unable to file their taxes - their taxes, they said, had already been filed. And their tax returns, it is apparent, had been collected by an identity thief.

Identity theft is more prevalent in Florida than elsewhere

The school district scam is only the latest in a string of similar incidents in Florida. In fact, according to a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission, our state has one of the highest rates of identity fraud in the nation, earning us a reputation as a "hotspot" for such crimes.

The crimes cost the state significantly, representing several million dollars in annual economic loss. As such, authorities have begun to pursue offenders aggressively. Earlier this year, an operation involving the FBI and CIA resulted in charges against more than 100 defendants in Florida identity theft cases. Prosecutors claim the defendants attempted to steal more than 30,000 identities and $60 million. The penalties they face will include imprisonment and hefty court fees and will require adept legal counsel to mitigate.

What can be done?

The extent of the damage in the Manatee County School District case has yet to be seen. The employee responsible for leaking the W-2s has been "placed into another role... where she will not have access to sensitive information." Meanwhile, the district is offering identity protection services and credit monitoring to the individuals affected.

But the incidence of such attacks has only increased in recent years, and offenders - though often ultimately caught - are becoming more and more sophisticated.

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