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DOL mailing snafu puts residents’ data at risk

UPDATED: MONTPELIER — The Vermont Department of Labor (DOL) on Monday announced a recall of all tax documents it mailed out to all 2020 Vermont recipients of Unemployment Insurance benefits due to mix-ups in names, personal data and mailing addresses of up to 180,000 residents.
Many Unemployment Insurance (UI) recipients received in the mail the names and Social Security numbers of other UI recipients on 1099G forms used to report income to the IRS and Vermont Department of Taxes.
Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said in a Monday public statement he didn’t know how many people’s data had been improperly shared, but hoped to know soon. He said no incorrect information has been shared with state or federal tax officials
According to Harrington, DOL officials on Monday morning “learned that individuals were receiving 1099G tax documents where the name and mailing address did not match on the front of the envelope and in other cases where the name and social security number on the inside did not match the recipient.”
According to Harrington, the DOL “believes this issue is specific to the 1099s that were associated with the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program and a portion of the Vermont Short Term Supplemental benefit population,” but opted for a recall out of all the 1099s “out of an abundance of caution.”
All recipients will receive further instructions along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to handle and return the previous documents to the DOL.
He added those whose information is potentially compromised will receive “instructions for protecting their identity and how to enroll in consumer protection services through the department.”
This reporter worked part-time for the Independent this spring and summer and also collected unemployment insurance under the Lost Wages Assistance program. An envelope arrived with my first name, but a different last name, and that individual’s name and presumably his Social Security number and payment information inside. Conversely, personal data in my name likely went elsewhere.
Harrington said that because of the potential of the improper release of confidential and personal information, the DOL “will be providing all impacted individuals with the option to enroll in ID protection services. This improper release of data did not occur in every instance, but for those cases where an individual’s information was released, they will be provided the opportunity for identity protection. More specific information will be provided in a mailing to impacted individuals along with further instructions.”
Given the potential for quick exploitation of personal data, Department of Labor spokesman Kyle Thweatt was asked how soon individuals could expect that help to be offered.
No immediate timetable was available, he wrote in an email, as the DOL is still working on identifying potential victims and learning what went wrong.
“From a claimant perspective, we will be providing information directly to those that were impacted, and especially those that are identified as being potentially at-risk. With that said, we are still investigating and gathering information, so should have more details available in coming days. As I mentioned all of those will be made publicly available.”
On Wednesday Gov. Phil Scott said he had dispatched two senior-level tactical response teams to DOL to expedite the response to the 1099-G tax form errors. He also asked State Auditor Doug Hoffer to conduct a performance audit to identify the root cause of the error and provide recommendations for long-term quality control improvements.
In addition, Gov. Scott has appointed a new deputy commissioner to help lead the department.
TACTICAL RESPONSE TEAMS
The first of two tactical teams, the Response Coordination Team (RCT), will focus on expediting recovery of the incorrect 1099-G forms; the timely delivery of correct forms; and improved, consistent communication to impacted Vermonters and legislators. The RCT will also support other department projects and operational needs as necessary.
The members of the team are Brittney Wilson, Scott’s deputy chief of staff; Doug Farnham, chief of operations in the Agency of Administration; and Shawn Nailor, deputy secretary of the Agency of Digital Services.
The second tactical team, the Consumer Protection Team (CPT), will work in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office to provide information and access to protections from fraud or other illegal activities to any Vermonter whose information may have been compromised.
This team includes:  Deputy Secretary of Administration Kristin Clouser, and Jaye Pershing Johnson, the governor’s Legal Counsel.
Wilson will lead both teams and report directly to Gov. Scott on a daily basis until each team has completed its mission.
According to VTDigger.org, this is the second DOL mailing snafu this year. On March 30, some companies received Social Security numbers for other firms’ employees in a 5,667-piece mailing, and the DOL didn’t notify some claimants of the problem until May 14. This time, however, Harrington announced the problem immediately.

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