Fraudulent tax returns have reached troubling levels.
The IRS has recently issued repeated warnings and tips to help protect taxpayers from fraudulent filings. The Morning Call last week wrote a Watchdog report on the many cases of tax identity theft with Turbo Tax and other self-filing tax programs.
At Concannon Miller, we’ve always gone to great lengths to protect our clients’ private information and data and have protocols in place for both data in our offices and online security. However, each person has a role in protecting their information, as well.
Recently, we worked with a client to help straighten out the mess caused by identity theft. They had no idea this was going on until they got a very large tax refund check in the mail; curiously, their return had not yet been filed.
Somewhere, identity thieves had stolen his information and used it to file a bogus return. After a thorough examination of our systems to ensure that there was no data breach at the firm (which there was not,) we learned the fraudster had requested the return amount be applied to a bank debit card. However, the amount was too large for the account and the IRS sent a check to our client’s home instead.
In this instance, our client was “lucky.” Often thieves are successful and the taxpayer is unaware of the bogus filing until the legitimate tax return has been filed.
- Protect your Records: Do not carry your Social Security card or other documents with your SSN on them. Only provide your SSN if it’s necessary and you know the person requesting it. Protect your personal information at home and protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for Internet accounts.
- Don’t Fall for Scams: The IRS will not call you to demand immediate payment, nor will it call about taxes owed without first mailing you a bill. Beware of threatening phone calls from someone claiming to be from the IRS. If you have no reason to believe you owe taxes, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.
- Report ID Theft to Law Enforcement: If your SSN was compromised and you think you may be the victim of tax-related ID theft, file a police report. You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant. It’s also important to contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a freeze on your account.
- Complete an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit: Once you’ve filed a police report, file an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.
- Understand IRS Notices: Once the IRS verifies a taxpayer’s identity, the agency will mail a particular letter to the taxpayer. The notice says that the IRS is monitoring the taxpayer’s account. Some notices may contain a unique Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) for tax filing purposes.
- IP PINs: If a taxpayer reports that they are a victim of ID theft or the IRS identifies a taxpayer as being a victim, they will be issued an IP PIN. The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that a victim of ID theft uses to file a tax return. In 2014, the IRS launched an IP PIN Pilot program. The program offers residents of Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., the opportunity to apply for an IP PIN, due to high levels of tax-related identity theft there.
- Data Breaches: If you learn about a data breach that may have compromised your personal information, keep in mind not every data breach results in identity theft. Further, not every identity theft case involves taxes. Make sure you know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps before contacting the IRS.
- Report Suspicious Activity: If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, you can visit IRS.gov and follow the chart on How to Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity.
- Combating ID Theft: Over the past few years, nearly 2,000 people were convicted in connection with refund fraud related to identity theft. The average prison sentence for identity theft-related tax refund fraud grew to 43 months in 2014 from 38 months in 2013, with the longest sentence being 27 years. During 2014, the IRS stopped more than $15 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft. Additionally, as the IRS improves its processing filters, the agency has also been able to halt more suspicious returns before they are processed. So far this year, new fraud filters stopped about 3 million suspicious returns for review, an increase of more than 700,000 from the year before.
- Service Options: Information about tax-related identity theft is available online. We have a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and a phone number available for victims to obtain assistance.
Interested in more fraud protection tips? The IRS has much more information on its website.