Tax Season Is Here, and So Are The Scams
As wage earners everywhere gather their W-2’s and other tax documents in anticipation of filing taxes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is combating several new attempts to defraud taxpayers and the government. Each year, con artists come up with new ways to defraud taxpayers out of their refunds, bank accounts and identities. These criminals are becoming more and more tech-savvy, IRS officials say.
Last year a Tampa-area police officer discovered that someone had not only stolen his identity, but had used his information to file a false tax return. His inquiry with the local, state and federal authorities would eventually uncover a massive tax fraud operation that stole $130 million from both the federal government and taxpayers. South Florida remains a hotbed not just for Medicare fraud and identity theft but also for the related tax return fraud. Already this year many S FL residents, including police officers, have become victims of tax-related identity theft. Miami has been identified as one of 9 national hotspots for the new federal Inter-Agency task force on tax-related identity theft. Sources of information for these criminals include schools, hospitals, tax preparation firms and mortgage companies.
To combat ID theft and other tax-related scams the IRS has created a new section on its website with information and tips. Go to irs.gov and search for “identity theft.” Under “Helpful Resources” you can find links to YouTube videos, podcasts and victim-assistance resources. Recent fraud cases involve crooks using text messages and e-mails requesting victims to submit a social security number in order to receive a credit from the IRS. The IRS does NOT solicit personal information via e-mail. In fact the IRS has added a new disclaimer at the end of e-mails reminding the public that it doesn’t solicit information electronically. The IRS does not communicate via text messages or social media channels.
In January 2012 the IRS made public a massive anti-identity theft operation in which it targeted 105 people in 23 states, pressed 939 criminal charges and lodged indictments, arrests and search warrants involving potential theft of thousands of identities and taxpayer refunds. The agency also conducted a special sweep visiting 150 money services businesses to make sure these businesses are not facilitating identity theft or refund fraud. The agency is currently checking more than 250 check-cashing operations through an audit process across the country and is looking for indicators of identity theft as part of the examinations.
How to protect yourself
One possible precaution is filing your return early. Identity thieves often submit their fake returns early in the filing season—which is why you might want to file as early as possible—before the criminal has a chance.
The IRS has issued several consumer warnings about the fraudulent use of the IRS name or logo by criminals trying to gain access to consumers’ financial information in order to steal their identity and assets. Criminals will use regular mail, telephone, fax or email to set up their victims. The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through email. Unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or from an IRS-related component such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), should be reported to the IRS at email@example.com.
Additionally, clicking on attachments to or links within an unsolicited email claiming to come from the IRS may download malicious computer software (malware) onto your computer.
Use up to date anti-malware on ALL computers, especially one’s being used to file tax returns.
Similarly regularly update your operating system, browser and other application software. So not only should you be updating your OS like Windows, Mac etc, you should also be updating your browser(Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari etc) as well as applications such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, Reader, Flash and Apple iTunes.
Use secure, encrypted wireless connections when accessing banks, credit cards, and doing your tax returns. Using the free wireless at your local Starbucks, Barnes & Noble etc when doing your taxes is probably not a good idea.
Shred credit card statements, tax documents, health insurance statements (EOBs) and any other documents containing personally identifiable information (PII) before disposal. Yes, identity thieves do sift through dumpsters looking for documents with PII. Of course, follow the same practice in securely disposing of any University documents that contain PII, including that of patients, employees, donors, students, clinical trial participants etc.
A taxpayer who believes they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should contact the IRS immediately so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. The taxpayer should contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. The taxpayer may be asked to complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit.
For more information
Posted: March 12, 2012