The Washington State Attorney General’s Office and AARP have started a full court press to educate the public about ID thieves filing taxes to receive refunds in the name of their victims and of course, IRS scammers who have been receiving publicity lately.
According to a press release issued earlier today by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), some ID thieves will electronically file tax returns in someone else’s name to collect a refund. All the ID thief needs is your birthdate and Social Security number. The AGO says that the prime sources for this information are:
- Unlocked mailboxes. 34 percent of Washingtonians receive their mail in an unlocked mailbox or mail slot at home. Unlocked boxes make it easy for ID thieves to steal bills, tax forms, and other documents which can have personal information such as bank account numbers and Social Security numbers.
- Leaving valuables in sight in their car. 57 percent of Washingtonians left at least one valuable personal item in their car in the last week. Wallets, purses, paystubs, or mail all can provide ID thieves with valuable information.
- Failing to destroy personal information. 19 percent of Washingtonians say that they never shred personal documents that could be used by ID thieves.
According to AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, the tax-refund scam is difficult to avoid because the ID thieves have time on their side. ID thieves often electronically file tax returns by mid-February to receive their “refunds” early.
AARP recommends that you:
- File early. If you e-file, use a computer that is connected to the internet with an Ethernet cable. They say that a wireless connection is not as safe and they say that you definitely should not use a public WI-FI network. If you are filing with paper forms, mail your return from a post office or secure blue USPS drop box. Don’t leave them as outgoing mail from your home mailbox.
- Don’t leave your tax returns on your computer. Once you have filed, move the files to a flash drive, compact disk or external hard drive. Store your archived files in a safe place.
- Pick up your mail as promptly as you can. This is the time of year that employers, banks and other financial institutions send you W-2’s, 1099 forms, brokerage statements all of which have your Social Security number and other account numbers that ID thieves can use to impersonate you in an electronic tax filing. AARP suggests renting a P.O. Box or installing a locking mailbox.
- After you file, and assuming you are expecting a refund, check for your refund at http://www.irs.gov/Refunds.
- Within three months of filing, look for unauthorized credit accounts opened in your name at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. At that web site you can check your credit report with one of the three credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Repeat this process two more times during the year, several months apart, with the other bureaus. You’re entitled to three freebies per 12-month period.
- Consider placing a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit report. A fraud alert is free and can be placed with one credit-reporting bureau, which will share it with the other two credit bureaus. You may be charged to place a freeze and you need to place it with each credit bureau. For more information about fraud alerts, go to http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0275-place-fraud-alert. For more information about a security freeze go to:
- Don’t leave anything visible in your car.
- Shred unneeded documents with personal information such as account numbers and Social Security numbers from time to time. If you do not have a shredder, check the AGO’s web site for free scheduled shred events.
Washington State Attorney General’s Office:
AARP Fraud Watch Network:
Beware of the Tax Scam Man: