EDITOR’S NOTE: We asked Dustin Jordan, community services officer with the Waxahachie Police Department to write a weekly column in an effort to answer many of the law enforcement-related questions posed by our readers. This week, his fellow officer Detective Kyle Ranton. Here’s this week’s column:
Identity theft tax refund fraud has continued on a steady rise for the past few years. It has become one of the most popular tax scams and is a money-making scheme for criminals. If you fall victim to this scheme, you risk your tax return being delayed six months or longer, not counting the time required to convince the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that you are who you say you are. All a criminal needs is someone’s Social Security number, date of birth and a computer or smart phone.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the IRS estimated that it mistakenly paid $5.2 billion to identity thieves in 2013. The criminals have filed fraudulent tax returns on behalf of millions of unknowing taxpayers. The IRS rarely catches the scheme until well after the refund check has been processed. The IRS has strengthened its identity theft prevention processes as it is estimated that the IRS was able to catch $24.2 billion in attempted identity tax refund fraud in 2013.
How do criminals accomplish this fraud scheme? The scheme is actually fairly easy to execute. Taxpayers usually receive a W2 tax form from their employers by the end of January. The taxpayer usually has until April 15th to file the tax return. During the time from January until April 15th, the fraudsters are able to steal the tax payer’s personal information, file a fraudulent tax return and collect the refund check. The IRS tries to issue refund checks within three weeks of receiving the tax returns so the scheme happens fairly quickly for the fraudsters.
Fraudsters commonly use the stolen identity of the elderly, the deceased, welfare recipients, the disabled, incarcerated individuals and military personnel.
Identity theft is difficult to completely guard against but there are ways to help you protect your identity, including:
•Regularly check your credit report.
•Properly dispose of documentation containing sensitive information.
•Only give personal information when absolutely necessary.
•Never use public WiFi or a non-password-protected network to file your tax return electronically.
•Protect personal laptops and devices by installing firewalls and the most recent anti-virus software.
•File taxes as early as possible during tax season because fraudsters try to file fraudulent returns before the actual filer.
•Be leery of phone calls from people who already know your Social Security number and claim to be IRS agents. Caller ID can be manipulated to appear the IRS is calling.
Please contact Detective Kyle Ranton with the Waxahachie Police Department if you receive notice from the IRS or, if you suspect that someone has filed a fraudulent return on your behalf, it is imperative that you respond immediately by submitting the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039. Detective Ranton can be reached with the following contact information:
Detective K. Ranton #129
Waxahachie Police Department
Criminal Investigation Division