We can take steps to reduce our chances of being a victim of identity theft, but we are all still vulnerable. Some things are out of our control. Forbes reported that in an affidavit in a Florida case, an FBI agent noted that military personnel serving in combat zones make attractive targets because they don’t have to file their tax returns until 180 days after they leave the combat zone. This means the crooks can file for a refund first.
How do they get our info?
Sometimes they get our data in onesies and twosies. They call you and claim to be the IRS. They scare you into giving up private information. I saw this myself when one of my staff got such a call at work last year. They told her things I knew were flat out wrong. But when you get the call, they play on your fears and many of us panic. I talked her off the ledge and the creep hung up.
Unfortunately it is far more efficient for criminals to get our personal information in mass bulk of dozens to thousands at a whack. Many times this theft is perpetrated with the help of sneaky insiders. These criminals are employed at tax prep businesses, health care billing offices, law firms, debt collectors and government offices. The list goes on.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that in 2015, hackers stole personal data of more than 330,000 taxpayers. They used the IRS “Get Transcript” database. This is where we can get data from our prior returns. If the creeps can use information from your prior returns, the fake return can be more difficult for IRS filters to detect.
How can you reduce your risk?
There are many things you can do to reduce your risk, but you cannot eliminate it.
- Change your passwords regularly. Yes, it is a pain. Do it anyway.
- Use different passwords for each portal. Reread #1 above.
- Never ever give out your Social Security number. New Medicare cards will not include Social Security numbers.
- Never ever click on links from tax prep companies because the email can be from a phisher.
- If you use a tax preparer, ask about their data protection. Thieves target old-line respectable CPA firms.
- Keep your refund amount to a minimum. Figure out a different way to save money. If you are a victim, you will have to wait several months to get your refund.
- Never leave mail in your home mailbox with the cute flag up. Drive to the post office.
- Never ever reply to emails from the IRS. They don’t do email.
- If you get a call from the IRS, hang up. They will send you a snail mail letter if they want to reach you.
- Try to get an IP PIN from the IRS. If you get approved for one, you will get a special PIN to file with your paper return the next year. This is not a slam-dunk. The IRS does a lengthy investigation to verify that you (and not the crook) are the rightful owner of your Social Security number. Go to irs.gov.
How will you know if you are a victim?
This is very simple. You will know you are a victim when the IRS rejects your tax return because they already have a return with your Social Security number.
What should you do if this happens to you?
Act fast. This does not just involve your refund. Once crooks have your private information, they won’t stop at filing a fake return. They will open accounts and apply for loans. Call your banks and financial institutions. Call your credit card providers. Contact the credit reporting agencies.
- Equifax online at http://www.equifax.com/home/en_us then click Customer Service or call 1-888-766-0008.
- Experian online at https://www.experian.com/fraud/center.html or call
- TransUnion online at TransUnion.com/customer-support/contact-us or call 1-800-680-7289.
If you think this is all bad enough, consider if you are selected for an IRS audit. The notice will be mailed to the last address on record at the IRS. That could be the address provided by the criminals.