Identity theft is on the rise
Published: Thursday, April 17th, 2014
This tax season, an unbelievable number of identity thieves have been discovered by Internal Revenue Service officials, including at least one here in Custer County. It must be frightening to submit your tax return to the IRS, only to be told that it has already been filed by someone who stole your identity and was hoping to cash in on any tax refund that was due you.
In this day and age of internet purchasing with credit cards and doing all sorts of other financial business over the internet, it should come as no surprise that it is more important than ever to safeguard your social security number and other vital personal information. Identity thieves are everywhere and use every method imaginable from sophisticated computer technology to rummaging through discarded trash to find vital pieces of personal identity they can use fraudulently.
Fake phone calls from persons posing as IRS agents netted $1 million from people just last month. Callers impersonating IRS agents tell their victims that they owe taxes and need to pay by wire transfer or prepaid card. Other scams are carried out through the mail and ask for personal information like social security numbers or birthdates which they can later use to claim tax refunds.
CNNMoney reports that identity theft has been plaguing the IRS for years, and the problem is only getting worse. Last year, identity theft investigations rose to 1,492, up 66 percent from 2012 and up more than 400 percent from 2011.
“Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes nationwide, and refund fraud caused by identity theft is one of the biggest challenges facing the IRS, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The investigative work done by Criminal Investigation is a part of an aggressive effort by the IRS to combat this issue on all fronts.”
In February, a couple from Tampa, Fla., was convicted of organizing a scheme that used stolen identities to file 322 fraudulent tax returns claiming refunds of nearly $3 million. The couple had this money deposited on prepaid cards, which they then withdrew from ATMs. They were sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.
Elsewhere, in Georgia, a tax preparer was sentenced to more than 21 years in prison and ordered to pay $7 million in restitution after being charged with stealing the identities of more than 15,000 clients, homeless people and prisoners and using them to claim more than $19 million in fraudulent refunds. The IRS also ordered this tax preparer to forfeit his assets, which included 17 pieces of real estate and thousands of dollars from his bank accounts.
Identity theft requires some vigilance on the part of all of us. Regularly monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements for any unusual withdrawals or purchases. If you are due a refund, file early to beat any potential scammer to the punch. If someone is first to file on your account, the IRS will be forced to investigate when a second return from the same person arrives in their office. That could really end up being a hassle. Of course, it goes without saying to make sure you have a reputable and reliable tax preparer.
It might also be wise to seek out one of the several identity theft prevention services available, especially if you do not have the time to monitor your various credit card and bank accounts on a regular basis. One of these companies can notify you immediately if there is any unusual activity taking place in any of your accounts.
It’s too bad we have to resort to such asset protection services, but in this modern age of technology, you can never be too cautious.
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