ID Theft Criminals Steal and Use your Name and Social Security Number to Get Your Tax Refund
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), "tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job."
Both consumers and small businesses can increase their education and awareness by participating in this year's FTC Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week (please see here https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0029-tax-identity-theft-awareness-week) where consumers will learn about tax-related identity theft, IRS imposter scams, how to protect yourself, and how to recover if you become a victim.
Small businesses will learn about protecting sensitive business and customer data including practical identity safety practices for your business. Small business will also learn about tax-related identity theft, imposter scams that target businesses, practical cybersecurity practices for small business, and data breach response.
In addition to, and separate from, the FTC Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, consumers need to be concerned with the Equifax data breach event and fraudulent income tax returns.
As most consumers know, Equifax announced last September their data breach event affecting 143 million U.S. consumers where information breached included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver's license numbers – all the personally identifiable information (PII) that ID theft criminals need to file fraudulent tax returns.
As a side note, Equifax revised its estimate for the total number of people affected by its data breach to a total of 145.5 million people, 2.5 million more than it initially reported.
The irony to the Equifax data breach is that the hack took place after the company failed for several months to fix a software flaw that federal officials had warned about in March.
However, the Equifax response to their data breach was equally disastrous as Equifax waited nearly six weeks to notify the public after learning of the hack and then initially making people give up their right to sue if they wanted free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services. Equifax later backtracked on having consumers give up on their right to sue Equifax.
So how do you know if you are a victim of taxpayer ID theft and refund fraud? Typically, victims learn about their predicament when their tax return is rejected because ID theft criminals filed first. When the real taxpayers file, their refunds aren't paid until the IRS resolves their individual case, which can take months.
One of the best defensive strategies is for consumers to file their income tax returns as early as possible this year, even if they have to amend them later.
As I have previously mentioned and while the IRS has been attacking the problem of fraudulent returns for years and has been making progress on detecting fraud, this coming tax season could be especially challenging based on the Equifax data breach event.
To conclude, ID theft criminals want your tax refund, so beat them to the punch by filing your 2017 taxes as soon as possible.
To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.
Scam Alert: BBB Warns of Social Media Video
Scam: "Is This You?"
Have you received a Facebook message with a video link asking, "Is this you?" If you have, don't click the link. Delete the message and make sure your firewall and anti-virus software are up-to-date.
If you do click the link you're taken to a website that appears to be Facebook or YouTube and asked to log in again. The scam is that once you provide your login information the hacker will have access to your account. And once the hacker can log in to your social media account, they can hijack it to send other scam or malware to your friends. People are more likely to click on links coming from someone they know than someone they don't and the scam keeps spreading.
Clicking the ink can also download malware or unwanted apps to your device.
Rule of thumb: if you receive unsolicited messages with content you were not expecting, do not click on any links. Delete the message. If you're not sure whether or not it's a scam, contact the sender directly before clicking any links to see if they really sent you the message. If they didn't, it's a red flag their account has been compromised.
It's imperative to stay safe online. Don't open links from websites or users you don't know, and make sure your software is up-to-date and current at all times. BBB has more tips on phishing here.
To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.
To learn how to protect yourself from a variety of scams, go to "10 Steps to Avoid Scams".
BBB serving Central Virginia contributed to this report.
Courtesy of the Better Business Bureau - for more information visit http://www.bbb.org/phoenix/news-events/
If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today.