Sometime last year computers at the U.S. Social Security Administration were hacked and the identities of millions of Americans were compromised. What, you didn’t hear about that?  Nobody did.

The extent of damage is only just now coming to light in the form of millions of false 2011 income tax returns filed in the names of people currently receiving Social Security benefits. That includes a very large number of elderly and disabled people who are ill-equipped to recognize or fight the problem. It’s an impact pervasive enough that the IRS now has a form just to deal with it: Form 14039: Identity Theft Affidavit, December 2011.

The Wall $treet Journal has a story about this problem specific to Puerto Rico, but the Journal fails to mention that this is a national problem — a $30+ billion problem.

The story is going public now because tax season is upon us and there’s no way to keep it under wraps as people file their tax returns only to learn that a return under that name has already been filed with refunds paid electronically into a bank account now closed. The December date on that IRS Form 14039 shows the Treasury has been expecting this for awhile.

The question being asked about this in Washington, DC today is whether this hack was an act of war? More likely an act of Tony Soprano, I’d say. If the goal of war is to sow confusion and discontent, then okay, maybe China or Iran are behind this (you don’t have to be a superpower to take on the U.S. government anymore). But the more probable goal is simply to steal money and that’s a domestic job.

Either way, that big hacker score guys like me have been predicting for several years has finally happened with draconian policy changes sure to follow. Lucky us.