Identity thieves consistently look for ways to steal their way into a consumer's pocketbook, and the criminals are increasingly turning toward tax identity theft as a way to do so.
Identity thieves consistently look for ways to steal their way into a consumer's pocketbook, and the criminals are increasingly turning toward tax identity theft as a way to do so. The Internal Revenue Service has identified more than 14 million suspicious tax returns since 2011. Criminal investigations of fraudulent filings last year were up 66 percent from the year before. According to the Federal Trade Commission, tax identity theft is the most common type of ID theft reported to that agency. Therefore, the FTC this year designated Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week from Jan. 13 to 17 in order to help consumers protect themselves against the crime. Accordingly, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert to inform Arkansas consumers about the growing problem of tax identity theft. “Last year, more than 140 employees of an Arkansas university were victims of tax identity theft, and they all faced the additional trouble of working with the IRS and local authorities to obtain their rightful refunds and protect their identities,” McDaniel said. “I urge every Arkansas consumer this tax season to take the time to learn how to avoid being victims of tax identity theft.” The FTC says tax identity theft occurs when someone files a phony tax return using a consumer's personal information, like a Social Security number, or uses the Social Security number to get a job or claim a consumer's child as a dependent on a tax return. McDaniel joined the FTC in sharing these tips to help consumers prevent tax identity theft: •File tax returns as early as possible, which lessens the possibility that identity thieves can file a fake return first. •When filing electronically, use a secure Internet connection instead of a publicly available Wi-Fi hot spot, where information being transmitted may be compromised. When filing by mail, take the return directly to the Post Office and do not leave a return in a mailbox. •Shred all unneeded copies of tax returns, drafts or calculation sheets. •Remember that the IRS never contacts individuals by email, text or through social media. The IRS will contact consumers by mail if it needs information. •Do not give out personal or financial information over the phone or via email, especially in response to an unsolicited inquiry. •Before hiring a tax preparer, make sure to do research on the preparer and seek recommendations from trusted friends and family. McDaniel said victims of tax identity theft usually learn of the crime when they are notified by the IRS that multiple tax returns had been filed in their name, or if the IRS inquiries about deductions or wages from an employer that the consumer does not know. In the event that happens, consumers are encouraged to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490. The IRS and FTC websites also contain more information about tax identity theft. Visit www.irs.gov/identitytheft or www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Additionally, the Attorney General's Office provides a free booklet to help consumers navigate the aftermath of identity theft. To request a copy of the booklet, or for more information about tax identity theft, call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at (800) 482-8982. The Consumer Protection Division's website is www.GotYourBackArkansas.org.