Cascadian Resistance, a political group based in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada, with the goal of building a "bioregional community," is alleging that a property manager used a tenant's social security number to check on the status of their stimulus check and demand rent.
The organization took to Twitter to make the allegations, writing: "One of our members experienced their landlord utilizing their SSN to access the IRS website to check the status of their stimulus check and demanded they pay rent with it. Best part, they admitted to using their SSN for this."
"Landlord will do anything to get paid," the group concluded.
The group also shared an alleged text message exchange between the tenant and the property manager.
In the image, the property manager starts the conversation by stating: "You got your stimulus, just asking are you going to pay rent or part of rent with any. I am trying to close out the books for April."
When the tenant asks how the property manager knows they've received their check, the property manager allegedly replied: "Because I had to check several people today and checked yours also."
After further questioning, the property manager appears to state that they checked the tenant's status on the IRS' 'Get My Payment' tool. This tool allows people to see the status of their payment and submit banking information to receive it sooner. It requires users to enter their SSN or Individual Tax ID Number as well as other personal details.
"So you accessed this information on the IRS website? Did you like need to use my SSN for that or something?" the tenant asks. The property manager allegedly replied: "Yes."
"I did this for everyone who called me today and yesterday," the property manager states according to the screenshot. "So are you going to be making a payment towards rent? So I can close the books out for April."
Daily Dot identified the tenant as Austin Goodrich, who told the publication that he is being represented by a lawyer and waiting for the property manager to accept or decline an “amicable settlement arrangement.” Goodrich is demanding that the property manager wave his rent for the remainder of the lease, as well as all past due amounts. He's also asking for his security deposit in full, and “excellent renters recommendations.”
If the property manager doesn't respond to his demands by April 22, Goodrich plans to file a lawsuit against the property manager and landlord.
In a press release, the Portland COVID-19 General Strike Facebook group stated that the incident took place in Portland, Oregon. They said: "A property management company ... confirmed to a tenant (Austin Goodrich) that they had accessed the IRS' systems respecting to an unspecified number of tenants in order to confirm that their stimulus payments were disbursed and/or received, using their personal information (SSN) in order to confirm the disbursement."
The group argues that this action violates the tenant's right to personal privacy and goes on to point out that the IRS' website states that unauthorized access of records using the system could be a crime. "Unauthorized use of this system is prohibited and subject to criminal and civil penalties," the IRS' website states. Users have to agree with these terms before entering any information.
Joshua Browder, the CEO of consumer rights app DoNotPay also took to Twitter to share the "horrifying" exchange. He later stated that the Justice Department had been in contact to investigate the incident.
After the exchange went viral, Goodrich took to Twitter to share a statement. He partly blamed "gaping holes" in the IRS' security for the incident, and went on to share some suggestions to make the platform more secure.
Shahar Ziv, a personal finance expert, described the property manager's action as "illegal" on Forbes. "While knowing someone’s payment status may not help a criminal steal funds, it could certainly help landlords," Ziv explained. "Some of them appear to be accessing this information illegally, impersonating tenants to check the status of their stimulus payments and then harassing them to pay their rent."
Ziv recommended that anyone facing a similar situation, "consider filing a police report."
The alleged incident comes as millions of Americans have been made unemployed in the wake of a shutdown amid the coronavirus epidemic. Many were unable to make rent payments on April 1, and some have had to turn to food banks to survive.
The best way to prevent contracting or spreading coronavirus is with thorough hand washing and social distancing. If you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, which include persistent cough (usually dry), fever, shortness of breath, and fatigue, please call your doctor before going to get tested. For comprehensive resources and updates, visit the CDC website. If you are experiencing anxiety about the virus, seek out mental health support from your provider or visit NAMI.org.