Have You Taken Preventive Measures to Prevent Identity Thieves Stealing Your Tax Refund?
Could an identity thief steal your tax refund?
Tax time, whether we like it or not, is upon us. Every year, we hear from a handful of credit union members who file their tax returns, expecting to receive a refund, that something unfortunate has happened. Terribly shocked – they are one of the growing number of Americans that receive a notification from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) saying their return has already been received and a refund check has already been issued.
What happened? An identity thief stole their information, filed a fraudulent tax return and received their refund … and it’s becoming an increasing trend.
How Identity Thieves Hijack Your Tax Return
There are many ways savvy identity thieves steal your private and confidential information. Sometimes a computer virus arrives in a scam email pretending to be from the IRS or your accountant or tax preparer, with an infected attachment labeled “Tax Account Transcript” or something similar. When you open the attachment, your computer is infected with a virus that sends your personal information to the scammer. Now they have everything they need to file YOUR return and get your refund check.
Another technique criminals use is phone spoofing. Thieves call, pretending to be the IRS, your local police, state motor vehicle department or other official agencies. They ask for your personal information, or demand that you make a payment to avoid penalty.
One other popular way is the increase in malware and cyber hacking onto the sites you trust that house or contain your personal information. We hear about this in the news all the time, and the vast ripple when it affects millions of Americans.
How You Can Protect Yourself
The best protection is prevention. Use these tips to safeguard not only your personal information, but ultimately your potential tax refund as well:
- Never share your personal information – Social Security number, date of birth, etc. – by email or on the phone.
- Don’t be fooled by scammers claiming to be from the IRS or local law enforcement. The real authorities never ask you to give personal information or send money by phone or email.
- Never open suspicious email attachments, even if they seem to be from someone you know. When in doubt, contact the person and ask if they sent it.
- Create passwords that are complex and hard to guess – not “1234” or your birthday.
- Change your passwords frequently, it is suggested EVERY 30 days, and whenever a company you do business with has personal information stolen.
- File your tax return early. Identity thieves can’t steal your refund if you have successfully filed your return or have already received your refund.
One easy way for you to protect your finances is to sign up for online banking with Members 1st Credit Union. We encourage our members to check your account balance frequently, instead of waiting to get your previous month’s statement in the mail. This enables you to spot any problems with your balance faster, and for us to help should you have an issue. With identity fraud on the rise, especially during tax time, we’re hoping you take these suggested precautions to protect your information now, and in the future!