A team of hackers claims to have stolen Mitt Romney's tax returns from PricewaterhouseCoopers' offices in Franklin, Tenn., and is threatening to release them to the public on Sept. 28 unless a $1,000,000 ransom is paid in Bitcoins, the online currency that is difficult to trace and identify. The news was reported via a pair of anonymous postings on Pastebin, dated on Sept. 2 and Sept. 4.
The subject tax returns has been a sore subject for Mitt Romney. The GOP presidential hopeful said he released his 2010 records and plans to release his 2011 filing, but Romney has nevertheless been heavily criticized for refusing to release any returns from before 2010, especially during his time as CEO of Bain Capital. The GOP presidential hopeful may not want to release his tax returns, these alleged "hackers" might help Romney's decision for him.
Here's the first "official" message from the alleged hackers, posted on Sept. 2:
"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," said the posting. "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."
The group promised to "release all available files to the public on the 28 of September, 2012."
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Two days later, a second message was posted to Pastebin. This message was addressed directly to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP:
"Using your Office @ 830 Crescent Centre Drive, Suite 260, Franklin, TN 37067 Telephone:  (615) 503-2860 we were able to gain access to your network file servers and copy over the tax documents for one Willard M Romney and Ann D Romney. We are sure that once you figure out where the security breach was, some people will probably get fired but that is not our concern.
"All major news media outlets are going to be sent an encrypted copy of the most recent tax years that your company had on file since you did not have them all in a convenient electronic form. The years before 2010 will be of great interest to many. If the parties interested do not want the encrypted key released to the public to unlock these documents on September 28 of this year then payment will be necessary.
"The deal is quite simple. Convert $1,000,000 USD to Bitcoins (Google if if you need a lesson on what Bitcoin is) using the various markets available out in the world for buying. Transfer the Bitcoins gathered to the Bitcoin address listed below. It does not matter if small amounts or one large amount is transferred, as long as the final value of the Bitcoins is equal to $1,000,000 USD at the time when it is finished. The keys to unlock the data will be purged and what ever is inside the documents will remain a secret forever.
"Failure to do this before September 28, the entire world will be allowed to view the documents with a publicly released key to unlock everything."
The hackers attached a Bitcoin address to wire the money transfer to, which would purportedly stop the release of the tax returns. However, the hackers added that "other interested parties will be allowed to compete with you."
"For those that DO want the documents released will have a different address to send to," the hackers wrote. "If $1,000,000 USD is sent to this account below first; then the encryption keys will be made available to the world right away. So this is an equal opportunity for the documents to remain locked away forever or to be exposed before the September 28 deadline."
The alleged hackers attached a second Bitcoin address to stop the release of the tax returns, adding: "Whoever is the winner does not matter to us."
Is This A Legitimate Hack?
We can't confirm the validity of these reported ransom notes, but Julia La Roche of Business Insider claims that this story is "almost certainly nonsense."
"An anonymous post on Pastebin asking for Bitcoins? That's basically a parody of hackers," La Roche said. "Furthermore, the description of how the tax returns were purloined is implausible."
Chris Atkins, managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, gave IBTimes the following statement:
"We are aware of the allegations that have been made about improper access to our systems," Atkins said. "We're working closely with the US Secret Service and at this time there's no evidence that our systems have been compromised or that there's been any unauthorized access to the data in question."
The Franklin Police Department in Tennessee had yet to respond to initial inquiry. We'll update you with more information as we get it.
One thing is for sure: The issue of Romney's tax returns is not going away any time soon.
"I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more," Romney said in a debate in January. "I don't think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes."