Tax season has always been a favorite time of year for criminals, especially con artists looking to separate unknowing victims from their recent refunds. Unscrupulous repairmen claiming your roof needs replacing, greedy salesmen offering a “once in a lifetime deal” and mysterious, never-before-seen relatives looking for a loan – all the favorite cons resurface in April. But things have changed. Now you will never even see the con man coming, because instead of stealing your money from you, they will go directly to the source and get it from the IRS.
Last year over 600,000 cases of tax-return-related identity theft were stopped by the IRS, including one which involved my wife. Although it took over 6 months to receive our refund, we were lucky because her information was not used for any other purpose. No maxed credit cards, no drained bank accounts or luxury vacations at our expense. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. Even more disturbing is the fact that we still have no idea how the thief obtained my wife’s information – including her name, date of birth, employer and even past deduction claims. Since then we have learned some simple, yet effective, steps that will make it harder for future thieves to obtain the information they need.
- Guard your Social Security number – few people understand that as far as the government is considered, your SSN is the combination to the safe. NEVER carry your Social Security card, or any other document which contains the number, on your person. Memorize the number and keep the documents under lock and key. You should also refuse to provide your SSN to anyone unless absolutely necessary, such as on tax or employment forms. Although many companies will ask for your SSN, most are not entitled to it and must provide an alternative ID number if requested.
- Protect your tax and financial records as if they were cash – a single page of a past tax return or an unprocessed credit application can provide a thief with all the information they need to become you. By the way, a computer connected to the internet is NOT secure. A hacker can access saved documents easier than the websites you’ve visited. A shredder and lockable filing cabinet may seem old school but may also be your best defense in today’s high tech world.
- DIY may mean you are working for the criminals – do it yourself tax returns have become very popular, especially in this time of being able to click a box and fill in the blanks. An hour with a computer and a downloaded program and you can save hundreds compared to hiring an accountant. However, as recent events have shown, even the larger and best known at home tax preparation programs are vulnerable. If you are going to prepare your own taxes, it is recommended that you not utilize a program that saves your information anywhere but your own computer, never send a copy of your return to anyone other than the IRS, and change the passwords for your account frequently.
In most cases, victims of tax identity theft do not realize a crime has occurred until they attempt to file their own return and find it rejected. In other cases they become suspicious after receiving unusual correspondence from the IRS. If you believe you have been the victim of a fraudulent return you should protect yourself as soon as possible.
- Contact the IRS immediately at 800-908-4490
- File a report with your local police, the Federal Trade Commission and all three major tax bureaus – the IRS will request proof of this prior to proceeding with a review of your case.
- Contact your bank, credit card providers and loan companies to ensure none of your accounts have been compromised. You should close any account that has suspicious activity and change PINs or passwords for all others.
- Notify your tax preparation provider to determine if their system was the source of the information leak.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.