U.S. Attorney's Office Warns Public To Be Aware Of Tax Identity Theft During Tax Season
SHREVEPORT/LAFAYETTE/ALEXANDRIA/LAKE CHARLES/MONROE, La.: United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley joins other federal law enforcement agencies to raise awareness about a growing problem of identity theft as it relates to tax refund fraud. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has named this week “Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.” The FTC reports that the use of a Social Security number or other personal information to file a false return is one of the fastest growing forms of identity theft. Early in the year when tax refunds are due, tax thieves steal social security numbers to grab someone else’s tax refund.
Nationwide tax ID theft fraud is estimated to cost the U.S. Treasury more than $5 billion annually. The IRS has made tax identity theft a top priority and has hired new staff to explore new technologies and adopted new procedures to fight it. In fiscal year 2013, the IRS initiated 1,492 identity theft related criminal investigations, an increase of 66 percent over investigations initiated in FY 2012. Indictments and sentencing doubled in FY 2013 and the average prison term was more than three years (38 months).
Tax identity theft happens when someone files a tax return using other people’s personal information, like a Social Security number, to get an income tax refund from the IRS. It also can happen when someone uses a Social Security number to get a job or claims someone else’s child as a dependent on a tax return. Victims usually do not realize that their identity has been stolen until they do their taxes. The IRS will contact the victim saying that more than one tax return was filed using their Social Security number, or that IRS records show they received wages from an employer they do not know.
There are a number of ways for tax identity thieves to get personal information, to include:
- going through trash or stealing mail from a home or car;
- sending phony emails that look like they’re from the IRS asking for personal information;
- misusing clients’ information or passing it along to identity thieves by employees of businesses.
“With the federal income tax season upon us, it is important that the public is aware of the ways that thieves can steal your identity and your income tax refund,” Finley stated. “Tax identity is one of the biggest hassles you could face and protecting your personal information has never been more critical. Our office, along with our federal law enforcement partners, are keenly aware that these types of crimes are on the rise, and we will continue to prosecute these cases and seek the stiffest penalties available for those who try to scam innocent victims.”
“Individuals who commit violations of identity theft deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Gabriel L. Grchan said. “IRS Criminal Investigation remains vigilant in identifying, investigating, and prosecuting those individuals who participate in Stolen Identity Refund Fraud schemes. We appreciate the Office of the U.S. Attorney for their aggressive support of identity theft tax fraud cases. It is only with the support of our law enforcement partners that we can assure American taxpayers that identity thieves will be held accountable.”
“Tax identity theft is a significant and growing issue,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It’s critical that we make sure consumers are aware of how they can prevent it, and if they are victimized, what steps they can take to recover as quickly as possible.”
To protect yourself this tax season, it is important to know the ways that the IRS will and will not contact you if they have concerns. It is not going to be through text, email or the phone. The IRS will only contact you by mail if there is anything they have a concern with. If you receive a letter from the IRS, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
For those who have had their identity stolen and used for fraud, the IRS will issue a special PIN to use for filing taxes. Information on the PIN program is available at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Combats-Identity-Theft-and-Refund-Fraud-on-Many-Fronts-2014. Please visit the FTC at ftc.gov/idtheft and the IRS at irs.gov/identitytheft for more information about tax identity theft.