HOUSTON - The Federal Trade Commission says 'identity fraud' costs millions of consumers, billions of dollars every year. While protecting your personal information is a vital step, a number of local taxpayers may have been dangerously exposed after having their personal information discovered in the trash.
Michael McCollum says he found more than a dozen 2021 tax returns, complete with names and social security numbers, in a shared dumpster behind a bar he used to work at on Bissonnet.
He says he was surprised when he approached the listed tax service, "The owner had offered me $2,000 to shut up or go away."
Albert Okopie owns Quantum Financial Solutions, and remembers the discussion about money with McCollum very differently.
"This guy is trying to blackmail me into giving him money, and I'm not gonna' do that!" says Okopie.
Beyond the two men disputing each other's allegations, there's the issue of these tax returns found in the trash. Mike McCollum says he grabbed them and wants someone to take responsibility.
"With potential ID theft, that opens a whole bunch of doors to the criminal element," he says.
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Albert Okopie says he's got no idea how the forms got in the trash, insisting copies are only printed when clients come to pick them up. What happens after that, he says, is beyond his control and dismisses the chance that someone in his office made a mistake and placed non-shredded documents in the dumpster.
"That is absolutely a possibility that that happens, but the question is: Do we keep printed copies of tax returns? No," he argues.
FOX 26 tried to contact the people listed on the tax return, that was provided to us, and have not heard back. The documents will be destroyed, but they offer a cautionary tale, to ask about and feel comfortable with the security of any personal information that you may have to let out of your hands.