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Morning Spin: Assessor glitch sends couple's tax appeal info to thousands of homeowners

Monday, March 28, 2016
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne



Avowed suburban Internet avoider Kathi Elwood and her husband got dragged online in a very public way thanks to what the Cook County assessor’s office says was a computer glitch that sent the Elwoods’ property tax appeal information to thousands of other homeowners.

Elwood said at first, she thought it was funny when a neighbor informed her last Monday that she had received an emailed copy of the Elwoods’ tax appeal on their former Oak Park home

But then an hour later she got another one, "and another one an hour after that,” Elwood said. “Pretty soon it wasn’t so funny.”

And the neighbor was far from the only Cook County resident to get the notice, as Elwood learned when her phone started blowing up with messages from strangers in Evanston, Barrington, Wilmette and elsewhere. In all, over 2,000 people got the email letter from Assessor Joe Berrios, thanking Philip Elwood for filing the appeal, and including the appeal number and the property number that identifies the Elwoods’ home in county records.

Assessor spokesman Tom Shaer said no sensitive information was included in the email, which he said was a result of a “computer glitch” that was fixed by Tuesday morning. People who got the letter had filed appeals of their own and got the appropriate notices via email the same morning the problem was noticed, he said. In addition, the numbers included in the emails were already public information, if someone wanted to look them up.

That’s small consolation to Elwood, who said she was inundated with calls and texts from people she doesn’t know, including mortgage companies urging her to refinance.

“I don’t buy things on the Internet. I don’t sell things on the Internet. I spend very little time on the Internet at all,” Elwood said. “So it’s easy for them to say nothing sensitive was on there, but people were reaching out to me and making contact with me who I don’t know. That never would have happened if not for this. In my opinion, they left us wide open. It’s just the most unsettling feeling.”(John Byrne

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