ECASD employees are victims of identification theft

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Chris Dominski, Editor and Magnus Groom

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Several school district employees at Memorial High School have lost personal information that led to compromised tax returns. Some of those are Ms. Brott, Mr. Dasher, Mrs. Dernbach, Mr. Niemuth as well as recently-retired instructor Mr. Buchholz. An additional teacher wishes to remain anonymous because of possible recrimination. At this time it is known that some teachers at North High School have also been affected. Every one of the people affected first learned about this problem when they tried to file their 2014 tax return.

The incident apparently occurred last school year approximately the time Anthem Insurance was also hacked in late January or early February. The connection between Anthem Insurance, the Eau Claire Area School District (ECASD) and the security breach is still not clear. It appears that the ECASD leadership failed to announce the loss of information to district employees who only learned of the problem when they were contacted by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Office Assistant Ms. Brott is one of the known people affected by the breach. She first learned about this when she tried to file her taxes. “Somebody already filed them. I got a letter from the IRS asking to confirm my identity,” she said. Brott later went on to point out an unusual thing she noticed when she was trying to confirm her identity. “My name was attached with Mr. Buchholz, saying we were married or something…we all had a good laugh about it though,” she stated. Since then she has been able to file her taxes and has also received her refund.

Mr. Dasher also had trouble filing his federal tax return and needed to personally contact the IRS in order to receive his return. He, like others, contacted the ECASD office at 500 Main.

Ms. Dernbach had a quite unusual thing happen after her information was stolen. “My nine year old daughter started to receive letters in the mail about elderly assistance,” she said adding she might not have been the only one in her household affected by this breach of information. She then stated her disappointment with the district’s lack of a response to the matter. “I contacted the board office when I was aware this happened. If this sort of thing happens to Walmart or Target, they would have to let everybody know, but we don’t even get an email informing us of what happened and who might be affected,” she claimed.

Mr. Buchholz learned about the problem quickly. He said, “It was necessary for me to take time off from school to deal with this issue. It was very time-consuming for about three days. He added, “I purchased protection from three different credit agencies. No one can get credit in my name without a password, but if I want to open a credit card account I have to notify them in advance.”

A Memorial teacher who asked to remain anonymous said this incident has created the need to “re-do everything;” change credit cards and passwords on all personal technology as well as having a professional “cleaning” of a personal computer. In addition to not understanding how this happened this individual claims to be paranoid about using credit cards and is having to “jump through more hoops” to protect a personal credit score. They added, “I feel spooked.”

Niemuth said, “We did not realize what was happening until receiving a letter from the IRS as we were experiencing simultaneous issues with our tax preparer. He added, “It appears at this time that the district just doesn’t want to be held accountable for any part of this situation; it would be nice to know exactly what happened.”

Those affected who spoke on the record believe they should step forward and at least let other people know about the situation and what happened even if they (the compromised parties) do not fully understand it. Members of the ECASD executive team were asked about this issue.

Former district Technology Coordinator James Schmitt stated, “…(there have been no breaches on our [ECASD computer network] systems).  I believe the situation you are asking about will be best answered by Dr. Hardebeck.” (Two months later, MHSPurpleWings.org has yet to hear back from Dr. Hardebeck although we will update this story if we ever do.)

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