Security of 1098-T forms in question

At the end of January, Amanda Conrad, an arts practices major at Portland State, was surprised to receive her 1098-T form from the university in what she deemed to be a non-secure envelope.

At the end of January, Amanda Conrad, an arts practices major at Portland State, was surprised to receive her 1098-T form from the university in what she deemed to be a non-secure envelope.

According to Conrad, her social security number, tax identification number, address and full name could be seen through the envelope.

“Everything you need for identity theft,” she said. “I think the Bursar’s Office should pay for identity theft insurance for everyone they mailed these out to.”

PSU delivers 1098-T  forms to all of its students by mail unless a student opts to get the document online. The 1098-T details a student’s tuition and education expenses for the year.

These documents are sent by the Bursar’s Office. Though the office’s address is listed on the envelope, Conrad said that she still had difficulty finding the right person to speak with. 

“I tried to contact the Bursar’s Office, but trying to find their number is almost impossible,” Conrad said. “On the PSU website, it’s not listed.”

When Conrad contacted the Cashier’s Office, a representative told her that the information would be passed along to the Bursar’s Office. However, as of Feb. 4, the office had not received the information. 

“We haven’t gotten one single complaint,” said Eric Blumenthal, director of business affairs.  

According to Blumenthal, the mailing process for 1098-Ts has not changed within the three and a half years he has been in the position, nor have the envelopes the office uses or the vendor from which they are purchased. 

“It’s been the stock of envelopes we’ve always used, unless they’ve changed it over time, and it’s become a cheaper stock,” he said. “We were ordering those, probably, since the 1970s.” 

Conrad has been a student at PSU for the last three years, and says this is the first year she has received her 1098-T in such an envelope. As a student at Portland Community College, she says she received her 1098-T forms in an envelope made of heavier paper, which could not be seen through.  

“If it’s not held up to the light, you can’t see through it,” Blumenthal said of the envelopes sent by the Bursar’s Office. 

According to Bursar Amanda Nguyen, around 30,000 1098-T forms were mailed to PSU students this year. Around 10,000 students got their forms online. This is Nguyens’s first year in the position. 

PSU ran a campaign in January to encourage students to sign up to get their 1098-T forms online.

“The ultimate thing is not to have it mailed at all,” Blumenthal said. “It’s better for the environment. It’s cheaper. It’s more secure.” 

Electronic forms are password-protected and can be viewed and printed out online. PSU uses the same online system for employee W2 forms. It is not necessary, for tax filing purposes, to have a paper copy of the 1098-T form because these forms do not need to be sent to the Internal Revenue Service, according to Blumenthal.

The IRS, however, still requires schools to offer a mailing option for 1098-T forms and the Bursar’s Office is currently reconsidering the envelopes in which it mails the forms. 

“It’s fine for just general correspondence,” Blumenthal said, “Maybe we just shouldn’t be using it for other sensitive things.” 

Blumenthal speculates that the decision about which envelopes to use at the office was made before awareness of identity theft was as common as it is now. 

Conrad has been fighting a previous and unrelated case of identity theft for the last five or six years. She said that it could take as much as one or two years for identity theft to become known to the victim. 

“People just need to be aware of what’s going on with this type of stuff…and how little information it takes,” she said. ?