January 29 through February 2 is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week
According to a Treasury Department report, $227 million in fraudulent returns were filed in 2016
With tax return season upon us, Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph is warning Orange County residents to be on the lookout for tax return scams. As part of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, the Tax Collector’s office is launching a social media campaign to warn residents against the most common tax scams and offer safety tips.
According to the IRS, identity theft by scammers who file fraudulent tax returns using a victim’s Social Security number is the nation’s most costly tax scam. In 2016, the Treasury Department identified more than 42,000 fraudulent tax returns filed that year with $227 million claimed in fraudulent refunds. Additionally, the IRS saw a 400% surge in phishing and malware incidents during that tax season.
“Tax fraud is real and it’s becoming more and more common,” Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said. “The best way to protect yourself from these criminals is to know the types of scams out there and take immediate action if you’ve been victimized.”
According to the IRS, some of the most common tax scams include:
Tax Identity Theft – Tax identity theft occurs when criminals file fraudulent tax returns using someone else’s Social Security number. Taxpayers should be alert to possible tax identity theft if they are contacted by the IRS about:
- More than one tax return being filed under their Social Security number;
- If they have a collection action taken against them for a year in which they did not file a return; or
- IRS records indicate that they received income from an employer for whom they did not work.
Phishing Emails – Phishing emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking they are official communications from the IRS and may seek specific information related to one’s refund, filing status and personal identification number (PIN). Phishing emails generally urge taxpayers to give up sensitive, personal information such as their Social Security number, online passwords and bank information.
Phone Scams – Phone calls from scammers impersonating IRS agents are a persistent problem. Phone scammers can be very aggressive when contacting a potential victim and often communicate in a threatening tone. Many scammers will demand immediate payment, oftentimes through a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer, and threaten law enforcement action if a victim does not make a payment over the phone.
To avoid falling victim to a tax return scam, Tax Collector Scott Randolph is urging residents to follow these safety tips:
Don’t give out your personal information online unless you initiated contact. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media to request personal or financial information. And remember, the IRS will never ask for a credit card number over the phone.
Be aware of current tax scams. The IRS publishes an annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” most common tax scams. See the list at irs.gov/newsroom/dirty-dozen.
File your tax return as soon as possible. One of the best ways to prevent yourself from falling victim to tax identity theft is to file your tax return as soon as possible. A criminal won’t be able to file a false return in your name if you’ve already filed your legitimate return.
Monitor your credit report. You’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies.
Don’t carry your Social Security Card or documents with your SSN or Tax ID number. Identity theft from a stolen Social Security card in a purse or wallet is among the most common ways people fall victim.
If you feel you’ve been the victim of a tax scam:
- Contact your local police department or the Sheriff’s Office to file a report;
- Report the incident to the three major credit bureaus, Equifax at 1-888-766-0008, TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289 and Experian at 1-888-397-3742;
- Contact your bank or financial institution and report the incident to your creditors; and
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov.