As April 15th quickly approaches, many Lee County residents are busy preparing their 2011 income tax returns. Unfortunately, some people who have already submitted their returns are receiving this news from the IRS – a tax return using their social security number has already been filed. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office Fraud Line has received calls from victims seeking advice on what to do, now that their personal information has been stolen and their tax records compromised. Below are scams you should be aware of, and what you can do if you find yourself a victim of Identity Theft this tax season.
Electronic Filing – Armed with stolen Social Security numbers, identity thieves have filed thousands of tax returns and collected billions of dollars in tax refunds through electronic filing. Many businesses including medical facilities, financial institutions, your place of employment, and genealogy websites ask for your SSN. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they protect this valuable information. Tips: Your social security number defines you so be careful who you give it to. File your taxes early, and check your credit report regularly.
Fake Websites or Emails – Creating a website that looks just like a legitimate tax preparer’s website or the IRS is simple. According to Scambusters.org there are approximately 5000 phony websites, hosted in more than 50 countries who claim to be a part of or linked to the IRS. Imagine the information you give these phony sites when you log on to file your tax returns thru them. Phishing emails claiming to be from the IRS are also circling around enticing victims to resubmit their tax return so that “invalid account records can be corrected for purposes of deposit”. Tips: If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.
Return Preparer Fraud - About 60 percent of taxpayers will use tax professionals this year to prepare and file their tax returns. Most return preparers provide honest service to their clients. But as in any other business, there are also some who prey on unsuspecting taxpayers. In 2012, every paid preparer needs to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and enter it on the returns he or she prepares. Tips: Stay away from preparers who promise larger than normal tax refunds, charge a percentage or want you to split the refund to pay the preparation fee, encourage you to place false information on your return, such as false income, expenses and/or credits.
Finally, if you believe your personal information has been stolen and used for tax purposes contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, immediately. For more information, visit the special identity theft page at www.IRS.gov/identitytheft.
If you have questions about Identity Theft or if you have received a fraudulent phone call, email or letter and would like to report it, please contact the Fraud Line at 239-477-1242.