Sadly, identity theft related to tax returns is a thriving and growing criminal business. The IRS has prosecuted a number of perpetrators, but…thieves continue to plague the system. The IRS recently reported that it is currently investigating more than 450,000 identity theft cases, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said that identity- theft- related fraud impacted nearly 1.5 million tax returns for 2011 — in excess of $5.2 BILLION.
Thieves get sensitive data in a number of ways, mostly illegally, like buying lists from employers, hospitals, nursing homes; searching public lists of deaths with SSNs issued by Social Security Administration; dumpster diving for discarded tax returns, credit card and bank info (NOTE: we shred!! So should you!); email phishing; telephone surveys. In the past year, we have seen incredibly realistic emails supposedly from the IRS with language threatening penalties and jail time if recipients do not click on a link….hmmmm. Please know: the IRS will NOT initiate contact you by email – EVER. If you receive this type of email, go to www.irs.gov and click on Report Phishing at the bottom of the home page. And of course….do NOT click on the link.
Please protect your sensitive information. Here are a few thoughts:
- If any personal info is lost or stolen during the year, report it to the police, close accounts that are affected and contact the credit agencies AND the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. The fraud departments at the credit agencies are: Equifax (Equifax.com) 800-525-6285; Experian (Experian.com) 888-397-3742; Transunion (Transunion.com)) 800-680-7289). For IRS, please also complete Form 14039. Call us if you need assistance. This is important!
- Do not use your SSN when you do not need to. You may be asked for it in various places. Ask why and if you can have a different identifying number for that business’s purpose.
- Ask any business legitimately using your SSN to mask it on correspondence—if they are not already doing so.
- Check your credit reports at least 4 times a year to make sure there is no strange activity.
- Do not discard any document to your trash can that has sensitive financial or personal information. Shred it first!
- Keep copies of sensitive documents, like tax returns, under lock and key in your home.
- Password your computers and change the passwords periodically. Use hard passwords – not words or important dates. Try not to use your email address as user name.
- If you get strange correspondence from IRS by email or phone or even by mail – contact the IRS. DO NOT CLICK ON LINKS.