3 On Your Side

Stolen tax information on the dark web

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Experts say thieves are stealing W-2 information and selling it on the part of the Internet hidden from search engines known as the dark web. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Experts say thieves are stealing W-2 information and selling it on the part of the Internet hidden from search engines known as the dark web. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Brigham Gonzalez had his W-2s stolen from a thief who pretended to be upper management. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Brigham Gonzalez had his W-2s stolen from a thief who pretended to be upper management. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
In addition to filing a fraudulent tax return on your behalf, stolen W-2s can be used to establish credit, or outright steal your identity. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) In addition to filing a fraudulent tax return on your behalf, stolen W-2s can be used to establish credit, or outright steal your identity. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The IRS tells us that so far it has stopped 1.4 million confirmed identity theft tax returns, totaling $8 billion. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The IRS tells us that so far it has stopped 1.4 million confirmed identity theft tax returns, totaling $8 billion. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3 ON YOUR SIDE) -

It may be past tax time, but that doesn’t mean the stress is over. Experts say thieves are stealing W-2 information and selling it on the part of the Internet hidden from search engines known as the dark web. 

The risk is real. Just ask Brigham Gonzalez. He recently changed jobs and moved on his own. Everything was great until he woke up to a shocking call from his sister.

“She had received a letter from my previous employer stating that all of their W-2s had been stolen,” Gonzalez says.

Or at least the W-2 information. 

He rushed to call the company, which verified the troubling news.

“Somebody pretending to be upper-level management just kind of bluffed their way into getting one of the employees to fax over all of the W-2s,” he explains.

The letter explained that names, addresses, Social Security numbers, earnings and deductions were sent before it was realized that it was a con.

Caleb Barlow, VP of Threat Intelligence for IBM Security, says sometimes it’s phone calls, sometimes email scams, but W-2s are being stolen.

He took us into the cyber underground to marketplaces where vendors, complete with approval ratings, are selling stolen 2016 W-2’s in bulk for around $35 to $40.

Barlow showed us one site selling the tax information along with a date of birth and adjusted gross income, which is something required by the IRS to file a return.

In addition to filing a fraudulent tax return on your behalf, the documents can be used to establish credit, or outright steal your identity.

The IRS tells us that so far it has stopped 1.4 million confirmed identity theft tax returns, totaling $8 billion.

“Now, of course, the best protection is, ultimately, prevention,“ stresses Barlow.

If your information is compromised, notify the Federal Trade Commission along with credit reporting bureaus, call your financial institutions and fill out all appropriate IRS forms.

No one filed a fraudulent tax return on Brigham, which made him breathe easier in the short term.

“Long term,” he says, "I know that all of my information's still out there and anybody could decide to use it against me.”

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


Gary HarperGary Harper is the senior consumer and investigative reporter for 3 On Your Side at KTVK-TV.

Click to learn more about Gary.

Gary Harper
3 On Your Side

With more than 20 years of television experience, Gary has established himself as a leader in the industry when it comes to assisting viewers and resolving their consumer-related issues. His passion and enthusiasm have helped him earn an Emmy for Best Consumer Reporter from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’s also garnered several Emmy nominations

He has negotiated resolutions with companies of all sizes, including some of the biggest corporations in the nation.

Gary has successfully recouped more than $1 million for viewers around the state, making 3 On Your Side one of the most popular segments on KTVK and the station's Web site.

He's best known for investigating and confronting unscrupulous contractors. In fact, many of his news reports have led to police investigations and jail time for those who were caught. Viewers, as well as the companies and people he investigates, regard him as consistently being thorough and fair.

Gary has been with KTVK-TV since 1997. Prior to his arrival in Phoenix, he worked for WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was as an anchor and reporter.

Gary is from Chicago, but launched his television career in Lubbock, Texas, after earning a broadcast journalism degree from Texas Tech University. Following his graduation, he was quickly hired by KLBK-TV in Lubbock, where he enterprised and broke numerous exclusive reports. His aggressive reporting in Texas helped garner him Best Reporter by the Associated Press.

Gary has been married since 1994 and is the proud father of two sons. When he's not helping viewers, Gary is busy catching up on his favorite college and professional football teams as well as cheering on his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders.

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