Feds probe alleged hacking theft of Romney’s tax returns

The U.S. Secret Service is looking into claims that someone stole presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s income tax returns and is threatening to release them if he doesn’t pay up.

Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie told CNET today that the agency is investigating, but had no further comment.

The claim was made in a post on the Pastebin site on Sunday that alleged that Romney’s federal tax returns were taken from the offices of PriceWaterhouse Coopers in Frankin, Tenn., on August 25 by someone who snuck into the building and made copies of the document. The message author threatened to release the files publicly on September 28 and said copies of the files had been given to Democratic and Republican leaders in that county. Democrats have made Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns a key point in their criticism that he is not in touch with working class voters.

Part of the message, which was not signed, reads:

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.

A follow up message posted yesterday said the files were accessed from the PWC network file servers and would be released in encrypted form to major news media outlets. The encrypted key to open the files would be released publicly unless Romney paid the hackers $1 million by transferring that amount — in the virtual currency called Bitcoins — to a specific account. However, if someone else wants the information to be released publicly sooner than that, they would need to transfer the same amount to a different Bitcoin account, the message said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers released a statement saying it had not found evidence of a system breach.

“We are aware of the allegations that have been made regarding improper access to our systems,” statement said. “We are working closely with the United States Secret Service, and at this time there is no evidence that our systems have been compromised or that there was any unauthorized access to the data in question.”

Romney’s campaign headquarters in Fairfax, Va., did not respond to a CNET request for comment. The news was first reported in The City Paper in Nashville.

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