OPINION COLUMNS

It’s tax (scam) season in Wise

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, April 8, 2015
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It’s a bit ironic that an increasing number of thefts in our area involve something with “security” in its name.

Since the middle of January, at least eight cases of identity theft have been reported in the form of stolen Social Security numbers being used to file fraudulent tax returns. It seems that every week I come across a new case reported to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

Most people don’t know they have been a victim of this crime until they try to file their taxes and find someone has already done so with their Social Security number. The thieves then claim the fraudulent refund.

While I haven’t been the victim of a fraudulent tax return, I have been the victim of a form of identity theft, so I can imagine the surprise, anger and frustration these victims must be feeling.

In my case, we had checks stolen, and the thieves wrote about $950 worth of forged checks from our account before we caught it.

As in a lot of identity theft cases, we made several mistakes that could have prevented the theft. We had recently opened a checking account and decided to have our new checks mailed to us. We also thought it would be convenient to put our driver’s license numbers on the checks.

At the time, my wife and I lived in an apartment-type complex with all the mailboxes in one area. The locks didn’t work so well, but we didn’t think too much about it at the time.

What can I say? We were newlyweds, young and not as wise as we are now.

While our process was fairly simple – our bank credited the money back to our account quickly – I imagine fixing a fraudulent tax return would be a bit more complicated.

The Internal Revenue Service suggests the following steps can be taken to ensure you are not a victim of a fraudulent tax return:

  • Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card or any document with your SSN on it.
  • Don’t give a business your SSN just because they ask – only when absolutely necessary.
  • Protect your personal financial information at home and on your computer.
  • Check your credit report annually.
  • Check your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually.
  • Protect your personal computers by using firewalls, anti-spam/virus software, update security patches and change passwords for Internet accounts.
  • Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or the Internet unless you have either initiated the contact or are sure you know who is asking.

At least one phone scam has been reported locally where scammers target taxpayers, often recent immigrants, by telling them they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. The victims are threatened with arrest or deportation if they refuse. Sometimes the scammers will tell the victim they have a refund to trick them into sharing private information.

Potential victims should know that the IRS will not call to demand payment, nor will it call about owed taxes without first mailing you a bill. The agency will also not require you to use a specific payment method or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

With the April 15 deadline quickly approaching, don’t delay in filing your taxes.

Just beware that you might be in for an unpleasant surprise caused by scammers who want your hard earned money.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special projects manager.

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