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'Call Christina' fraud alert: Tax-related ID theft prevention tips

IRS Miami Filed Office on the front line of ID theft investigations.

MIAMI – The IRS says tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses a stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Thieves also may use stolen Employer Identification Numbers to create false Forms W-2 to support refund fraud schemes.

Over the past three years, IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) helped convict about 2,000 identity thieves.  According to the IRS, "The courts continue to impose significant jail time with the average months to serve in fiscal year 2015 being 38 months (and) with the longest sentencing being over 27 years."

TAX PREPARER FRAUD PREVENTION:

"Whenever you are filing your taxes, you are giving out a lot of very critical information about who you are," President/CEO of the Better Business Bureau Southeast Florida and the Caribbean Rod Davis said. "You want to be very careful about who you are giving that information to."

Davis tells the Call Christina team that if you are using a tax preparer it is a good idea to vet them. You can start by looking up the business on the BBB's website.

"See how long they have been in business," Davis said. "This is a situation where you want to go with a trusted name and a trusted individual."

In a 2014 post on the Federal Trade Commission's website, Tim Camus, deputy inspector general for investigations and treasury inspector general for tax administration, wrote: "During the past several years, my agents have investigated and worked with Department of Justice attorneys to prosecute tax preparers who sold their clients' personal and financial information to criminals. These tax preparers abused the trust their clients placed in them to protect their sensitive information from tax-related identity theft."

Camus recommends taking the time to check the reputation and qualifications of a tax preparer before trusting anyone with your sensitive information.

If you plan on working with an accountant, ask what security measures they have in place to protect your information.

"Choose your tax return preparer carefully because you entrust them with your private financial information that needs to be protected," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said. "Most preparers provide high-quality service, but we run across cases each year where unscrupulous preparers steal from their clients and misfile their taxes."

Related Link: Tips when choosing a tax preparer

IRS IMPOSTER CALLS & EMAIL SPOOFING:

For more than a year, the Call Christina team has warned you about scammers posing as IRS agents to steal your information via phone and email.

The IRS has tracked a 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season.

Related Links:

Suspected IRS imposter talks to Local 10 News' Call Christina team

IRS issues alert about new phishing scam targeting HR professionals

Here's how to spot the red flags that the person demanding your information, or your money, does not work for the IRS:

  • When you have a tax problem, the IRS will first contact you by mail, not by phone.
  • The IRS won't threaten arrest, deportation or loss of a driver's license. Hang up the phone immediately if someone claiming to be from the IRS unexpectedly calls and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation.
  • The IRS won't demand that you make payment right away.
  • The IRS won't ask you to wire money, pay with a prepaid money card, or ask you to share credit card information over the phone. 
  • Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 if you think you owe taxes or need help with a payment issue.

CYBER TAX FRAUD: THE NEW FRONTIER

The IRS created a new cybercrime unit with the aim of stopping hackers from snatching your refund.

Just last month, they stopped an automated attack on its e-file pin system.

The top three ways to protect yourself from tax-refund fraud:

  • Don't give out your personal information to someone demanding information via phone or email. Call the IRS directly if you have a question.
  •  If filing electronically, use a strong password.
  • Skip the public free Wi-Fi when filing. That is where criminals often lurk to intercept and steal information. Instead, make sure you are filing from a properly secured password-protected network.
  • "You want to do a good virus scan on your computer to make sure it is clean," Davis said. "Watch your bank accounts around this time. Make sure that you don't see anything unusual, atypical. If you do a credit freeze, if someone does hack your information, the damage they can do is a lot less."