By Kevin A. Cameron, CPA & Jolene T. Loos, CPA, C&L Value Advisors
The number of reported cases of identity theft for the purpose of filing fraudulent tax returns is reaching unprecedented numbers. Tampa topped the charts with 88,724 potentially fraudulent returns filed, generating refunds of more than $468 million. (As reported by Eamon Javers, CNBC)
The IRS has a task force called the Identity Protection Specialized Unit who ultimately oversees all IRS identity theft cases. Reviewing each case and resolving it can take six months or more.
Who is committing these crimes? Anyone! There are no similarities to the criminals that have been prosecuted thus far. The criminals range from soccer moms, employees of health care facilities, and prison inmates filing tax returns right from the prison’s library. Much to our surprise, the IRS reports that unscrupulous tax preparers, (not to be confused with professional CPA’s like us), are also in the fraud game. Please warn your friends and family members to choose their tax preparer’s wisely. Every paid preparer needs to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), on every return such as C&L Value Advisors, LLC.
The following steps should be taken if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft or have been notified by the IRS that more than one tax return has already been filed for you.
There are a variety of methods in which criminals are stealing identities.
Dumpster diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other papers that contain information about you.
Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers using electronic storage devices when processing your credit card.
Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies to get you to reveal your personal information. Some cases have found groups of people canvassing colleges and gathering personal information under the false pretense of offering financial assistance or tax credits for education.
Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
Old Fashioned Stealing. They steal mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit card offers and tax information. They steal personnel records from doctors offices and hospitals or bribe employees who have access. Some are targeting mail carriers and robbing postal trucks.
Don’t be a victim. Minimize your chances of theft by taking the following steps:
Most Importantly – the IRS will never contact you by email. Do not respond to any notices that you have received electronically. Instead, report suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.