In this tax season, we’re hearing a lot about tax return fraud in the news. An innocent, tax paying American goes to file their tax return, and learns their tax return has already been filed. How can this be? This new scam involves stealing your identity and filing a fake W-2.
Identity thieves get your personal information by:
- Stealing wallets, purses and your mail (bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks and tax information);
- Stealing personal information you provide to an unsecured site on the Internet, from business or personnel records at work and personal information in your home;
- Rummaging through your trash, the trash of businesses and public trash dumps for personal data;
- Posing by phone or E-mail as someone who legitimately needs information about you, such as employers or landlords; or
- Buying personal information from “inside sources.” For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information about you that appears on an application for goods, services or credit.
1. Protect Your Social Media
Although it sounds silly, we must remember to protect our personal information and what we share online. In this new digital age of sharing, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is on Facebook to share pictures and talk about their day. Often, personal information, such as your mother’s maiden name or a birth date, is readily available to lurkers and used to steal your identity.
2. Guard Your Email Accounts
Change your password- often. Make it compex with a mixture of uppercase letters, numbers and symbols. Use a different password for your email vs your online bank account. If it’s easy for you to remember your password, it’s easy for a hacker to figure it out. Also remember that online banks and retailers will never ask for your password. These are phishing schemes that pretend to be reputable businesses so they can access your information.
3. Safeguard Your Mail
As we mentioned above, scammers can get your information in your own mailbox. There is a low tech form of identity theft that involves accessing bills and letters that come to your mailbox, and you may be surprised at how much personal information is mailed to your house. Always get your mail right away, or you can get a security mailbox that will let the mail carrier drop in your mail behind a lock box, to which only you have access with a key. When you go on vacation make sure you either have someone pick up your mail for you, or even better just cancel your mail for that week. Also, when you are done reading your mail you should shred it and not just throw it away. Most of us get those credit card offers and blank checks in the mail. You don’t want these sitting in the trash because some thieves sift through trash looking for information like this.
4. Discard Your Trash Properly
One man’s trash is another man’s identity risk. Again, you might be surprised to know how much information that can be found in your trash can be used to steal your identity. Make sure you get a good paper shredder. It is well worth the investment. Or, take advantage of the free paper shredding days, hosted several times a year in the city.
5. Protect Your Computer
Many scammers target victims on the computer, through viruses, email scams and phishing. Never open a suspicious email or ANY attachment. Scammers know this is an easy channel for obtaining personal information.
Unfortunately, random social security numbers have been reported stolen and used for this scam, however, there are ways to protect yourself after the fact. According to the Federal Trade Commission, take these 4 important steps if you believe your identity has been stolen:
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports.
2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
3. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
It is important that you report identity theft to your local police department as soon as you become aware that you are a victim. Get a copy of the police report which will assist you when notifying creditors, credit reporting agencies and if necessary, the Social Security Administration (SSA).
If your Social Security Number has been compromised, call the Social Security Administration SSA Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271 immediately. http://www.ssa.gov/
If you are the victim of a stolen Social Security number, the SSA can provide information on how to report the fraudulent use of your number and how to correct your earnings record. We encourage you to contact the Fraud Hotline immediately once you suspect identity theft.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, we hope the above information will help you get back on track. Above all, it’s critical to take immediate action to protect yourself from fraud and harm.