Cyber criminals have been using stolen identities to file tax returns and obtain fraudulent refunds. Tax preparers have reported an increase in e-file rejections because the taxpayers’ or their children’s SSNs have already been used in a previously e-filed return, which results in the e-filed return being rejected.
Generally, identity thieves use personal data to steal financial accounts and run up charges on the victim’s existing credit cards. However, identity theft can also affect your tax records as follows:
• Undocumented workers or other individuals use your Social Security number to get a job. The employer then reports W-2 wages the workers earned under your Social Security number to the IRS. When you file your return based on your real W-2 income, it appears that you failed to report part of your income on your return.
• An identity thief files a return using your Social Security number to claim refundable credits. This can be lucrative for cyber thieves who take advantage of the Earned Income Credit or the American Opportunity Education Credit, both of which are refundable credits. Generally, credits can only be used to offset a tax liability. However, these two credits are refundable even if the taxpayer has no tax liability.
• An identity thief may also use your Social Security number or your children’s SSN to claim additional tax return exemptions. Each exemption claimed on a return provides a deduction worth $3,800 (2012) and can be used to claim head of household status.
How do the thieves obtain this information? Some buy it from other thieves who collect identity information by hacking into firms that have those records or by using ingenious ways to trick you into disclosing the information. This is often done by sending you an e-mail disguised to look like an e-mail from a trusted source. This practice is referred to as “phishing.” An example of phishing is an e-mail with a fake IRS header claiming to have a refund for you and directing you to a site that requires you to enter your SSN and other information to verify your claim for the refund.
Don’t be a cyber-victim. Here are some tips you should know about phishing scams.
1. The IRS and legitimate businesses never ask for detailed personal and financial information such as Social Security numbers, PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts.
2. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail to request personal or financial information. If you receive an e-mail from someone claiming to be a representative of the IRS or directing you to an IRS site:
• Do not reply to the message.
• Do not open any attachments. Attachments may contain malicious code that will infect your computer.
• Do not click on any links.
If you clicked on links in a suspicious e-mail or phishing website and entered confidential information, you may have compromised your financial information. If you entered your credit card number, contact the credit card company for guidance. If you entered your banking information, contact the bank for the appropriate steps to take. The IRS website provides links to additional resources that can help. Visit the IRS website (www.irs.gov) and enter the search term “identity theft” for additional information.
3. The address of the official IRS website is www.irs.gov. Do not be confused, misled or respond to sites claiming to be the IRS but ending in .com, .net, .org or other designations instead of .gov.
4. If you receive a phone call, fax or letter in the mail from an individual claiming to be from the IRS, but you suspect he or she is not an IRS employee, contact this office immediately. You should also call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to determine if the IRS has a legitimate need to contact you. Report any bogus correspondence. You can forward a suspicious e-mail to email@example.com.
If you receive a notice or letter from the IRS or state tax authorities, you should always contact this office. This is especially true if you believe someone may have used your Social Security number fraudulently or stolen your identity.