Tax filing deadline is Wednesday, April 15, but if you’re anxiously awaiting a refund, beware. An identity thief may have beaten you to it. It’s a growing trick for thieves, to doctor up fake returns in your name and cash in. It cost Americans $5-billion in refunds last year alone.
Ryan Anderson, Outreach program manager at the UT Center for Identity, says it is easy, “The only information a thief needs to steal your identity for tax fraud is your full name, social security number and date of birth. It’s not very difficult.”
Then the thieves cook up bogus returns and hope to file before you do. Anderson explains, “Thieves generally speaking are pretty clever, they know most people wait until the last minute to do their taxes. So if they get this information, create this profile and send it out in December, the likelihood is you haven’t done it.”
The UT Center for Identity monitors identity theft. They’ve noticed tax return fraud is a growing scam, nearly doubling every year. Thieves may steal your identity through your computer, your mail, your garbage, over the phone. They don’t need your tax information, they make that up. According to Anderson, “You receive a lot of sensitive information, from banks, from the IRS, from your mortgage lender, car payments, so identity thieves frequently make the rounds of neighborhoods, stake them out, find where the vulnerabilities are and steal mail.”
Some good advice is to protect your information, shred documents, do not give out your social security number, periodically check your accounts and credit rating and watch what you say on the phone. Anderson says, “In a lot of cases it’s not online, it’s not a hacker. It’s somebody on the other end of the telephone, a fishing scam to get your information claiming to be the IRS, but it isn’t.”
Fact is the IRS is too undermanned and overwhelmed to check fake returns. If thieves beat you to your refund it could take a year or more to get the IRS to pay you what you have coming. it is estimated that such tax fraud will cost the IRS $21-billion over the next five years. Last year they launched 1,500 investigations into it but that is a drop in the bucket.
Your best bet is to file early, and remember, the IRS will not e-mail or phone you, so if someone tries to get your information in that manner, you should smell a rat.
UT Center for Identity Anna Griffin 739-3425 Ryan Anderson 718-5776