For many, the month of April means it’s “tax time.” With the 17th of April being just days away, there are some who are scrambling to make sure they have filed their taxes, don’t owe the government and if they do, have paid their taxes by now.
As if getting through the process of filing taxes is not enough to worry about, there is an added fear. After filing, someone could get a notice versus a refund check. The notice alerts the filer someone else has filed for taxes in his or her name. How does this happen?
According to the Internal Revenue Service, criminals are filing tax returns electronically and getting a victim’s refund in eight days. This is done because they are often using the direct-deposit option to have money deposited on a prepaid money card. Since 2008, nearly half a million taxpayers have been victims of wage and/or identity tax fraud, according to the IRS.
One way to help prevent this from happening is to know what to do when someone other than the IRS requests personal information. It can also be helpful to know what to do if someone steals your identity and how the theft can occur.
The IRS advises if you receive a scam email that claims to be from the government agency, forward it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Repeat this action if you stumble onto a website that also claims to be the IRS.
What is unnerving is the variety of ways identity thieves can access information. They include stealing a wallet or purse, phone scams, looking through the trash for personal information and gaining access to information you provide to an unsecured Internet site. These are just some of the ways identities can be stolen. The key is to be on the watch and protect personal information. Identity theft is a crime on the rise, according to the Federal Trade Commission. About 24 percent of the nearly 279,000 identity-theft complaints the FTC received in 2011 came from people concerned their Social Security numbers had been stolen and used to fraudulently file for tax refunds or apply for jobs. That represents about an 8 percent increase from the year before, according to an Associated Press article. Complaints are also prevalent this year.
We are not alone in our determination to fight fraud. If you have a suspicion, call the IRS’s Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 and the Minnesota Department of Revenue at 651-296-3781 or 1-800-652-9094. Nothing can be done if the crime is not reported.