One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Someone just became an identity theft victim. The stealing of an individual’s personal data happens every two seconds.
That alarming criminal frequency was part of an Internal Revenue Service presentation on ID theft and tax refund fraud during the agency’s Nationwide Tax Forum this week in Washington Harbor, Maryland, just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.
The good news, from a tax standpoint, is that that most of those 120 ID thefts per minute are by crooks seeking credit card information.
In fact, credit card related identity theft has been the #1 complaint on the Federal Trade Commission’s annual list of consumer concerns for 16 straight years, according to seminar leader Justin J. McCarty of the IRS Wage and Income division.
The bad news, though, for taxpayers and the IRS is that tax-related identity theft is #2 on the FTC list.
And the persistence of crooks who steal identities to file fraudulent tax refund claims gives the tax-specific crime a good shot at taking over the top spot on the FTC’s infamous list.
The reason that tax identity theft is growing is because there are so many ways for crooks to get our tax data.
Giving out your Social Security number unnecessarily. Almost every doctor’s office asks patients for their Social Security numbers. And almost every patient hands over those nine digits.
Bad idea. Physicians’ offices and hospitals have been prime hacking targets in recent years, says McCarty.
So the next time you get a checkup and are asked for your Social Security number, don’t give it. Your doctor has your insurance information. That should be sufficient.
Oversharing on social media. Millions of us are on Facebook, Instagram and beaucoup similar online outlets. It’s great fun sharing our lives with family and friends. But we also could be probably are sharing with crooks.
McCarty warns that once criminals have your name, their visits to your social media sites afford them an easy way to discover your birthday, your workplace, how many kids you have, and more. All this helps crooks build a profile of personal information that can be used to impersonate you to get into your financial and tax life.
This is what happened with the IRS’ online Get Transcript tool. Crooks used third-party data they gathered elsewhere to gain access to to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ prior filing details.
Clicking on a link in an unexpected and/or suspicious email. Don’t do this. Never. Ever. Similarly, never ever download an attachment if you have any question at all about its purpose and/or safety.
“The IRS is not as sneaky as people think,” says McCarty of these phishing attempts. “We do send emails, but in response to questions you ask. We do not send emails asking for money.”
If you get a purported IRS email and are worried that it might be about a tax issue that needs your attention, call the agency directly at 1-800-829-1040. An IRS representative can tell you if someone within the agency did indeed send you the electronic message. Probably not, but you’ll get official confirmation of the fake email.
Falling for scams. The tax-related cons out there are legion. Right now, though, the pervasive IRS agent impersonation scam is the nefarious leader.
Here, the scammers call, sometimes leaving messages with a return number, that warn the taxpayer of an overdue debt that must be paid immediately or they will face legal action or, skipping past the judicial system, jail.
The key targets, notes McCarty, are the elderly, who tend to be more trusting, and immigrants, some of whom might have come from countries where the threat of police involvement was real.
McCarty reiterated the IRS’ frequent warning that its employees generally don’t call taxpayers, especially if they’ve not had any prior contact, such as a snail mailed letter. “IRS may call you if it [your tax account] goes to collection,” says McCarty. “We may call about setting up a plan to pay, but it doesn’t start off with ‘you’re going to jail.'”
Broad reach of fake IRS agents: When McCarty asked how many of the 100 or so of us at the seminar had received the fake IRS agent call, 90 hands went up. I put both mine in the air since I’ve received five so far.
But McCarty has me beat. “I’ve gotten 12 so far,” he says. “It’s always the recording. I’m waiting for a live caller.”
I totally understand how a real IRS employee would love to go telephonically toe-to-toe with these crooks. Maybe one day McCarty will get the chance.
Until then though, he’ll have to be content with at least getting a creative crook. McCarty told us that one of the scam call messages on his answering machine was from Revenue Officer John Koskinen.
Pretty ballsy of that scammer to leave a message, especially on a national capital area phone number, as the apparently moonlighting IRS commissioner.