Experts are looking for a surge in thefts of tax refund checks as filing season gets underway, just another shoe to drop in what seems like a growing trend of identity theft nationwide.
The Federal Trade Commission reported 43 percent of all ID theft complaints it received in 2013 dealt with tax returns, a figure that nearly tripled only since 2010.
“It’s a lucrative crime and relatively easy to commit,” Adam Levin, chairman and founder of Identity Theft 911, told CNBC
. “All you need is a Social Security number and some counterfeit documents. It’s much easier than selling drugs or stealing cars and a lot less risky for the bad guys.”
Some of the tips CNBC offered to avoid being a victim include filing early so the thieves cannot collect your check ahead of you, filing at a post office if using a paper return, or using a secure network when filing electronically.
The Internal Revenue Service has more than 3,000 employees dedicated to identity theft issues, and more than 35,000 total employees who are trained to spot return fraud.
The IRS said it launched 1,492 criminal investigations for identity theft in fiscal 2013, up 66 percent from 2012. Indictments and sentencing doubled, the agency said.
CNBC reported most victims learn they have a problem when the IRS sends them a letter saying they have filed more than one return, or that they earned wages from an unknown employer. Those who receive such a letter should dial an IRS help line at (800) 908-4490, extension 245, CNBC reported.
“The Social Security number is the Holy Grail,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “Once you have enough information to file a phony tax return, you have enough information to open new lines of credit, commit medical identity theft and take over financial accounts.”
reported there are multiple ways consumers can protect themselves from identity theft, especially in light of the recent theft by hackers of personal information from over 70 million Target customers.
Those steps include checking credit card and debit card statements on a line-by-line basis, canceling any card that contains suspicious activity, changing passwords, shredding documents and examining carefully any document, mail or electronic, that claims to be from your bank or retailer.
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