News and analysis
April 25, 2012

IRS Warns Charities to Avoid Disclosing Social Security Numbers

By Noelle Barton

The Internal Revenue Service is warning charities that they should not include Social Security numbers on the annual public tax documents they are required to file with the tax agency.

The warning follows the release of a study that found that nearly one in five nonprofits has published private Social Security numbers of supporters and employees on informational tax forms, known as Form 990s, filed from 2001 to 2006.

“Because the law doesn’t allow the IRS to redact Social Security numbers when we make 990s public, it’s important for organizations, preparers, and you to make sure this kind of information isn’t put on the form, which creates a risk of identity theft,” said Lois Lerner, director of the IRS division that oversees charities, in a speech last week at Georgetown University Law School.

The IRS has issued similar warnings through e-mails and on its Web site.

Donor and Trustee Data

Identity Finder, a company that specializes in security and privacy software, recently reviewed more than 3 million tax returns filed from 2001 to 2006 and found that more than 132,000 charities had published at least one Social Security number on their tax forms.

Most were those of donors, trustees, employees, directors, and scholarship recipients. Slightly more than a third were those of the individuals who prepared the documents, the study found.