Hacker Group Claims That It Stole Mitt Romney’s Tax Returns

In an anonymous message claiming to be from a group of hackers, someone is claiming to have stolen copies of Mitt Romney’s tax returns from PriceWaterhouseCoopers and is threatening to release them unless a ransom is paid:

Someone claims to have stolen years of Mitt Romney’s tax returns from a Tennessee office of the financial firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and the Secret Service is investigating what appears to be a ransom scheme.

The local Democratic and Republican parties in Williamson County, Tenn., where the PricewaterhouseCoopers office is located, both received packages, each containing a thumb drive and a letter outlining a competitive-bidding ransom scheme that appears designed to pit Republicans and Democrats against each other over the release of Romney’s taxes.

The letters stated an intention to publish Romney’s tax returns on Sept. 28, unless $1 million is deposited in a Bitcoin (Internet currency) account, according to Williamson County Democratic Party Chairman Peter Burr, who said both he and his Williamson County GOP counterpart received similar packages. The letters did not make specific claims as to how many years of tax returns had allegedly been pilfered.

The Secret Service took the package from him after the local GOP contacted authorities, Burr said. The Secret Service confirmed to ABC News that it is investigating the ransom scheme.

The apparent hackers presented “two options,” Burr said. “If somebody wanted to prevent the publication of these tax records, they needed to put a million dollars into this Bitcoin account…that was to prevent them from going ahead and publishing it on September 28th. Then they went on to say that if you want to ensure that this is published before September 28th, you have the option of contributing a million dollars to this other Bitcoin account … and if you win the race … the other side will not be able to prevent the publication.”

PriceWaterhouseCoopers says that it is aware of the scheme and is cooperating with the investigation, but also says that “there is no evidence that our systems have been compromised or that there was any unauthorized access to the data in question.” It all sounds very odd, though, especially when you read the account about how this theft allegedly went down:

The group allegedly obtained the files from PricewaterhouseCooper’s Tennessee office on Aug. 25, in what was described on PasteBin as a Mission Impossible-like caper:

Romney’s 1040 tax returns were taken from the PWC office 8/25/2012 by gaining access to the third floor via a gentleman working on the 3rd floor of the building. Once on the 3rd floor, the team moved down the stairs to the 2nd floor and setup shop in an empty office room. During the night, suite 260 was entered, and all available 1040 tax forms for Romney were copied. A package was sent to the PWC on suite 260 with a flash drive containing a copy of the 1040 files, plus copies were sent to the Democratic office in the county and copies were sent to the GOP office in the county at the beginning of the week also containing flash drives with copies of Romney’s tax returns before 2010. A scanned signature image for Mitt Romney from the 1040 forms were scanned and included with the packages, taken from earlier 1040 tax forms gathered and stored on the flash drives.

It does indeed seem more like an episode of Mission:Impossible than a real case of hacking and, indeed, the competing ransom schemes reinforces that notion. In either case, if something did happen in this office and something was indeed stolen, that is a violation of several federal and state laws. Indeed, the ransom scheme itself violates federal and state law. I’m not sure these people realize what they might be in for.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Crime, Quick Takes, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    I hate these greaseballs. We’ve already ceded a lot of our privacy by the very fact of our using the Internet for virtually everything from blogging to e-commerce, and of course we have to worry about hackers releasing personal information.

    I want Romney to release his tax records too, but I don’t want them this way.

  2. @al-Ameda:

    It’s unclear if this is “Anonymous” or not, but yea I agree compeltely.

  3. Ed in NJ says:

    What a nightmare for Romney. That a presidential candidate can even be in a position to be blackmailed over something as basic as his tax returns tells you everything you need to know about Romney’s secretiveness. That it even can be called blackmail implies there is something to be hidden in those returns.

  4. legion says:

    If the government was really run the way conspiracy theorists believe it is, the IRS would have audited the hell out of Romney, and Obama would have the file sitting on his desk by now.

  5. mattb says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It’s unclear if this is “Anonymous” or not, but yea I agree compeltely.

    I doubt that this is “Anonymous” or rather Anonymous proper. The entire ransom thing really isn’t their style.

    Also, considering the amount of lockpicking involved here, one could say it was one of the more traditional hacking jobs in recent memory (if only they had done some phreaking as well).

    Beyond that, everything that @al-Ameda said. This is bad bidness.

  6. Paul L. says:

    In either case, if something did happen in this office and something was indeed stolen, that is a violation of several federal and state laws. Indeed, the ransom scheme itself violates federal and state law. I’m not sure these people realize what they might be in for.

    The nutroots will call for them to be let go/Freed . Just like Bradley Manning, the Jena 6 and the Palin email hacker.

  7. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I worked for PwC from 2007 – 2009 (albeit as an auditor, not a tax guy), and this entire scenario just seems weird to me unless there was an insider involved. PwC’s systems are almost entirely proprietary and it would be hard to know what you were looking for just going by file names. Bizarre.

  8. This happened in the Franklin, Tenn., office of PWC. I lived in Franklin for 12 years and presently live only 20 miles away. As you may imagine, this got a lot of play on the local news. The Nashville paper’s story today is here.

    Apparently, the blackmailer doesn’t care who pays the ransom. As you said, he sent the USB drive to the county offices of both the Democrats and the Republicans, demanding $1 million – or else the media gets it!

    I give kudos to the local Democrat chairman who said on camera last night that they aren’t touching it and are leaving the whole thing to Secret Service investigators. The Republican county chairwoman observed that it is a curious thing to try to blackmail a county office rather than the national committee; “Where do they think a county office will get a million dollars?” And besides, she told the Tennessean, “A million dollars seemed kind of low. If you’re going to go for a million, why not go for $100 million?”

    The paper reports today,

    “They said that they thought most likely it was nothing, but they had to treat it seriously,” Peter Burr, chairman of the Williamson County Democratic Party, said of his conversation with Secret Service members.

    The “returns” are probably fake, but the crime is still real, as Doug points out. Seems to be somebody’s really weird get-rich-quick scheme. But not very well planned:

    Should someone decide to, it may be difficult to pay the ransom anyway. The site through which the money was to be exchanged, Bitcoin exchange Bitfloor, was shut down by its owner after a security breach in which nearly $250,000 was stolen, according to CNET News, which covers the tech industry.

    Really strange.

  9. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    My money says this is just a cover story — an Obama appointee got his/her hands on Romney’s records through the IRS, and this is just cover so they can be released to the public.

    Hell, I recall reading several predictions that something like this would happen.

    @legion: If the government was really run the way conspiracy theorists believe it is, the IRS would have audited the hell out of Romney, and Obama would have the file sitting on his desk by now.

    My money also says Romney’s been audited at least a couple times in the last decade, and that Obama’s minions have already gone over those records with the proverbial fine-tooth comb to find some kind of dirt they can use. From what I’ve heard, people with Romney’s kind of money can expect an audit almost every year.

    And remember… we know about Romney’s off-shore accounts because he told us about them.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    If it was Anonymous or LulzSec then the ransom demand is likely a joke, a comic twist on the storyline included for purposes of being playful and extending the story. Of course the Secret Service and FBI are not known for their senses of humor.

    The Tennessee specificity is interesting. But I’m not sure whether it makes the story more or less likely.

  11. Barfour says:

    I’m very curious about what’s in Romney’s tax returns but I don’t want it to be released this way, if these people actually have what they say they have.

  12. A says:

    The fact that they’re asking for bitcoin makes me write the whole thing off.

  13. Gustopher says:

    You can’t be blackmailed if you haven’t done anything wrong.

  14. Chris Berez says:

    Wow, that’s really enraging. I can’t wait to see these morons wearing orange jumpsuits and sitting in a courtroom looking dejected. Enjoy prison, idiots.

    And yeah, I mean, bitcoin? Seriously?

  15. PJ says:

    I bet the persons who say that they have Romney’s tax returns are the same people who provided Dan Rather with George Bush’s false AWOL report.

    Someone probably should ask Turd Blossom about it.

  16. Moosebreath says:

    @PJ:

    Not that this isn’t a possibility, but with them sending ransom demands to both parties, it seems unlikely.

    And the comments above about wanting to see the tax returns, but not this way get a +1 from me.

  17. Just Me says:

    I worked for PwC from 2007 – 2009 (albeit as an auditor, not a tax guy), and this entire scenario just seems weird to me unless there was an insider involved.

    If the person actually has copies of the return, I would bet the farm that there was an insider involved rather than it being an outright hack from outside the company.

    I kind of have my doubts that they really have the returns though.

  18. matt says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Dude everyone is anonymous.. It’s not some kind of secret club of a couple superleetsauce hackers haxoring everyons megahurtz…

  19. James in LA says:

    @Ed in NJ: Ditto, offshore accounts, which also can be used for blackmail, bribery, and tax evasion. It’s a huge risk.

    As for the 1M bitcoins, these are just spoils. The damage is already done, and if the story is true, the hackers that did it are already enjoying the rewards they actually seek, and it ain’t bitcoins.

    It’s fame. And download points.

  20. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Just Me: Oh, yes, so do I. The physical copies definitely aren’t stored in Tennessee. No decent hacker would need to break into one of PwC’s offices to hack the intranet. And none of the PwC employees who would know how to find the files on the firm’s intranet would be dumb enough to think this was a good plan (or that their share of $1 million would be worth it financially).

  21. Dazedandconfused says:
  22. rudderpedals says:

    It’s fake. The Dearly Beloved Party Chairman salutation and backup instructions to send funds by Western union were dead giveaways.

    Seriously, I predicted in another thread when this thing started that the returns would come out. They’ll either be real ones or forged ones from whomever (this perp, others, it doesn’t matter). In multiple versions if I’m not underestimating our country’s creativity. Now I’m certain of its inevitability. The question I’d pose to Mitt is why aren’t you releasing the real ones now and put the issue to bed?

  23. anjin-san says:

    I want to see Romney’s returns, but not this way. If someone actually has them, I hope they keep them under wraps.

  24. mattb says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    If you are remotely serious, this single post explains more about your tenuous underlying connection with reality than anything else you’ve written here. 😉

    BTW, if you are remotely serious, I’m happy to start to take up a collection for the tin foil supplies that you are inevitably going to need to keep your fillings and that plate in your head from receiving the demo-librul thought wavez.

    Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about the fluoride in your water.

  25. mattb says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If it was Anonymous or LulzSec then the ransom demand is likely a joke, a comic twist on the storyline included for purposes of being playful and extending the story.

    Perhaps… but this is missing a lot of their flare, and the entire ransom thing makes little sense. It’s a little too Dr Evil/supervillian for their usual MO. Plus the interwebz would have been full of claims and counterclaims by now.

  26. grumpy realist says:

    I’m extremely skeptical. Doubt that the hackers a) hacked into PWC, and b) obtained the forms. (If they actually did, Mitt has a pretty good case for negligence against PWC in my opinion. Didn’t you idjits encode your data?)

    On the other hand, if a bunch of rigged-up tax forms gets released on Sept. 28th, how is Mitt Romney going to prove that they’re false? Aside from internal inconsistencies, that is…

  27. PJ says:

    @grumpy realist:

    On the other hand, if a bunch of rigged-up tax forms gets released on Sept. 28th, how is Mitt Romney going to prove that they’re false? Aside from internal inconsistencies, that is…

    He’ll just release small parts of the real ones or the real ones heavily redacted.
    And that would then lead to more people questioning what he’s hiding.

  28. @Gromitt Gunn:
    You summarized exactly what has been nagging me, too.

  29. @grumpy realist:
    “On the other hand, if a bunch of rigged-up tax forms gets released on Sept. 28th, how is Mitt Romney going to prove that they’re false? Aside from internal inconsistencies, that is…”

    Wouldn’t it then, because of this incident, be in PWC’s interests to demonstrate that they are forgeries? After all, if the supposed forms on the USB drive are forgeries, and are nefariously leaked to the media (no matter by whom), PWC would need to show they are forgeries or else it would be admitting how stupidly simple it is to break into their electronic records.

    I don’t think they would stand for that. They might have to carry all the water for Mitt whether tney want to or not.

  30. David M says:

    My vote is for criminals dumb enough to blackmail a presidential candidate and get the federal authorities involved. And I don’t think they have the returns.

  31. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @mattb: I dunno if it was here or not, but I did predict a couple of weeks ago that some “hackers” would claim to have stolen Romney’s returns and would release them to the public. As I said at the time, we’ve already seen similar events with Joe the Plumber, who had an Obama supporter go through his private files with the state government.

    She was fired, but all that meant to me was that this time, they’d do it with some kind of plausible deniability.

  32. bill says:

    i think if any dem office got a copy we’d have seen it already! there’s always the possibility that someone with “access” has a copy too. maybe there’s nothing worthwhile in them and they don’t care to release them?