Tax season is well underway, and that means your tax refund—and your identity—are in play for identity thieves looking for an easy payday.
Tax identity theft is a fast-growing crime, impacting more than 260,000 victims a year and costing the IRS more than $3 billion in fraudulent tax refunds.1 In 2016 alone, the IRS reported a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents related to this crime.2
“Tax refund fraud is a growing problem and it impacts hundreds of thousands of tax payers each year,” said Kevin Quinn, vice president of claims for Mercury Insurance. “There are a number of proactive steps you can take to reduce your risk of becoming a victim, however, and it costs very little money to protect yourself and your family’s sensitive information.”
Taxpayers can protect themselves by learning how to spot some of the most common scams criminals use to steal valuable personally identifiable information. Here are a few of the more common scams used by fraudsters.
- Fake Bill. Scammers send victims a notice saying they owe taxes related to the Affordable Care Act. This scam may arrive by email, as an attachment, or snail mail.
- The Bogus Tax. Scammers demand payment for non-existent taxes, such as a “federal student tax,” which asks college students to send payment via MoneyGram wire transfer.
- Verification scams. Thieves try to entice victims to confirm the last four digits of their Social Security number by clicking on a link provided via email.
- CEO scams. Scammers impersonate executives and send emails to human resources and payroll departments asking for employees’ sensitive financial and personal data. The emails can be very convincing, using the name of the company and CEO, for example.
It’s important for taxpayers to remember that the IRS first contacts people with a letter in the mail if there is an issue with tax payment. The agency will never initiate contact through email or social media, nor will it ever demand immediate payment of taxes or make threats to involve local police for not paying.
Follow these five tips to protect yourself:
- File Early. The IRS flags a second return as suspicious, so file early, before the bad guys.
- Go electronic. Opt for direct deposit of tax refunds to avoid lost or stolen refund checks.
- Choose tax preparers carefully. Avoid unscrupulous companies with a public history of stealing personal data.
- Keep sensitive tax data secure on a password-protected or encrypted external drive and store in a secure location.
- Report scams to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take action now before a thief steals your identity or tax refund. Mercury Insurance customers can get identity management help for less than $3 per month from our partner, CyberScout. Speak to your Mercury agent about this valuable coverage today.
1 Identity Theft and Tax Fraud,” U.S. Government Accountability Office, May 2016, and “IRS Steps Up Security to Prevent Identity Theft on Tax Returns,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jan. 6, 2017, http://www.star-telegram.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/teresa-mcusic/article124975089.html.
2 “Consumers Warned of New Surge in Email Schemes,” IRS, Feb. 2016, https://www.irs.gov/uac/newsroom/consumers-warned-of-new-surge-in-irs-email-schemes-during-2016-tax-season-tax-industry-also-targeted.