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All operations back up and running after 'computer incident' at Martin County Tax Collector's Office

Office shut down for several days in October
Posted at 3:34 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 18:18:29-05

STUART, Fla. — The Martin County tax collector said new safeguards are now in place to help prevent another security incident after the office was shut down for weeks because of computer network issues.

For the first time in three weeks, the main Martin County Tax Collector's Office in Stuart was 100 percent back online and back open Wednesday.

"Getting here to see a line to go into the tax collector's office is a little disconcerting because I didn't anticipate one," said Martin County resident Barbara MacLean. "We never had to wait."

MacLean came to pay her tax bill, but the line was out the door, and the parking lot was packed.

Martin County Tax Collector Office, Nov. 10, 2021
The line stretched outside the door of the Martin County Tax Collector's Office on Nov. 10, 2021.

Inside the tax office, workers are now using laptops after new equipment arrived.

It's being re-imaged and re-configured weeks after the office was closed for a security incident.

Some operations at the Stuart office on Willoughby Road had been back online since Nov. 2, allowing people to pay their property taxes.

Tax Collector Ruth Pietruszewski said the trouble started on Oct. 16 when she could no longer log into her system. She took immediate action, shutting down the computer system and notifying proper authorities.

"We've been, the last two weeks, staying until midnight and coming back in the morning and weekends getting everything done so we'll be pretty much caught up," Pietruszewski said.

Martin County Tax Collector Ruth Pietruszewski, Nov. 10, 2021
Martin County Tax Collector Ruth Pietruszewski discusses the recent problems that shut down her office for days.

The FBI is still looking into a computer incident, which prevented the tax collector from being able to log into the system.

"The first five days they were taking forensics, everything and every machine has to be scanned for that," Pietruszewski said.

The tax collector said she still can't confirm if the problem was caused by a ransomware attack or if anyone's personal information has been compromised, but she said the incident was unpreventable.

"Everything we have is from their experience from what they think, but no facts yet," Pietruszewski said.

Officials said new software has been installed to monitor the system 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Martin County resident Barbara MacLean
Martin County resident Barbara MacLean speaks about the recent problems at the tax collector's office.

But Martin County residents are still waiting to learn what caused the shutdown.

"I'm hoping to find out the truth. Let's find out if my information has been compromised," MacLean said. "I want to know that as soon as possible."

The tax collector said she's working to get the offices in Palm City, Indiantown and Hobe Sound back up and running.

The FBI is still looking at forensics and still investigating exactly what happened.