Beware #tax refund #ID theft — and #excessive #dining out

Before we get to our promised subjects of more identity theft issues, why some employers check the credit reports of prospective employees, and a story of teachers who finally followed through on some advice, there is one quick thing that I want to address.

Is it me, or are those drug company commercial disclaimers becoming more and more outrageous? As an attorney and a retired judge, I get the need for some disclaimers in certain situations, but sometimes I just have to shake my head and try to figure out what liability the drug companies and their attorneys are actually worried about. My newest favorite is, don’t take this drug if you are allergic to it. Is their concern that someone would actually take a drug that they KNOW they are allergic to? It’s not that they are saying, check the ingredients carefully and consult your doctor to make sure that you are not allergic — just, don’t take it if you are allergic. Remember — you are paying for all of this advertising and these head-shaking disclaimers when you buy these drugs.

Following up on one of our promised subjects, we recently once again discussed identity theft in connection with the Equifax hack. One issue that gets mentioned, but which I never really looked into before, is identity thieves filing false tax returns for refunds. I never really understood it, because I thought that the taxing authorities checked all of those W-2′s, 1099′s and such before sending out a refund, so how could that happen? It turns out that it is not so.

According to the IRS, an identity theft tax refund scam occurs when someone uses your personal information — such as your name, Social Security number, or other identifying information — without your permission to file a fraudulent tax return and claim a refund. Generally, the identity thief will use a stolen Social Security Number to file a forged tax return and attempt to get a fraudulent refund early in the filing season. By filing the fraudulent tax return early, of course, the identity thief usually receives the refund before the victim sends his or her tax return, and the IRS processes it.

Also according to the IRS, thanks to paperless e-filing, this scam is easier to pull off than ever before. Thieves can simply make up phony wages or other income, submit the information electronically and receive the fraudulent refund via mail or direct deposit within a month. Of course, the IRS keeps records of earned wages and other types of taxable income reported by taxpayers’ employers and other organizations. However, the IRS doesn’t match these records to information submitted electronically by identity thieves UNTIL SEVERAL MONTHS AFTER IT ISSUES REFUND CHECKS.

I couldn’t find any special things that you can do to prevent this — just the prevention steps that we have discussed in the past, especially protecting your Social Security number.

On another subject: Why do some employers check credit reports in connection with employment? Other than for jobs where you could be compromised or are handling money, some employers are also concerned about studies that show that people with debt problems don’t perform as well at work or in school, because of the associated stress and its consequences. Other employers see it as a possible character and/or judgment issue. There are differences of opinion on whether employers should be able to do this, and 11 states have some limitations on credit checks, but the bottom line is that you should do everything that you can to have a good credit report, JUST IN CASE. You should avoid things like being late on bills, missing payments, or having unaffordable credit card debt from overspending. If you have a less than a great credit report, because of some of these things, you need to be prepared to discuss why. There could be good reasons.

Last, a teacher’s story. I have a few more for the next column. I call them, “I have been listening to the Judge for all of these years, and then I decided that I would actually listen and follow the advice” stories. Last year in class, I was discussing budgets and the need for tracking and really analyzing all of your spending, so that you can make smarter choices, and not be on “spending automatic pilot,” even if you can otherwise afford it.

We talked about needs, wants, wishes, luxuries, conveniences, true emergencies and anticipated expenses. Then, I mentioned the amount Americans spend on eating out and take out. He emailed his wife right then, and said they had to go over their “eating out expenses” that night. When I contacted him this year and asked about it, he said, “We are saving so much money, and have even lost a few pounds. Now we only go out to eat for special occasions, or when our schedules really require it. Otherwise, we eat at home. We never realized how much we were spending.”

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