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FBI warns of identity theft after Independence School District employees fall victim

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Police are taking reports from educators and other school district employees who say their personal information has been stolen as part of a phishing scam.

Police said the data breach happened last month, but wasn't recognized until recently.

The FBI said fake emails and bogus websites are often used to collect names, addresses and social security numbers of unsuspecting victims.

Independence police said at least 15 school district employees have filed criminal complaints, claiming that their personal information has been used to file fraudulent tax returns.

The FBI said these scams trick folks by appearing to be legitimate websites to steal money from law-abiding citizens.

But there are safeguards available to prevent being taken.

"One of the biggest things the FBI pushes is education," said FBI Agent Bridget Patton. "If you reduce your vulnerabilities personally, you are going to reduce the threat personally. You have to do your due diligence when you have your personal information out there. You have to safeguard your personal information as well as safeguarding your computer. Make sure that you have proper security softwares on your computer."

The public relations director of the Independence School District declined to appear on camera but told FOX 4 that the district learned of the scam last week, after a couple of staff members reported that they had tried to filed their income tax returns, only to learn that someone else had already filed in their names.

Superintendent Dr. Dale Herl released a statement Tuesday afternoon.

The Independence School District is working closely with the IRS and law enforcement. We have learned that the names, social security numbers, addresses and earnings of ISD employees in 2016 were obtained through a phishing scam. The district is providing identity protection and credit monitoring for all affected employees. I want to express my deepest apology to all employees impacted. We are taking every step possible to get answers and help our employees.

The Internal Revenue Service said it has strengthened protections in its processing systems to stop identity theft and fraudulent refunds.

The FBI said it's important to report phishing scams to the Federal Trade Commission's website, and the Internet Crime Complaint Center.