Today marks the start of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). As with any new, massive, government-sponsored program, scammers and identity thieves will try to take advantage of the public’s confusion and unfamiliarity with the new Health Exchanges (which we’re calling Obamacare Identity Theft).
Every dollar counts, now more than ever, as the government searches for ways to wisely spend our money. It’s dismaying to learn that an audit report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has found that the impact of identity theft on tax administration is significantly greater than the amount the IRS detects and prevents. Even worse, the “IRS uses little of the data from identity theft cases…to detect and prevent future tax refund fraud” according to Mike Godfrey, Tax-News.
- The IRS is detecting far fewer fake tax returns than are actually falsely filed. 938,700 were detected in 2011. On the other hand, TIGTA identified 1.5M additional undetected tax returns in 2011 with potentially fraudulent tax refunds totaling in excess of $5.2B.
- The study predicted that the IRS stands to lose $21B in revenue over the next 5 years with new fraud controls, or $26B without the new controls.
- Key victims include the deceased, children, or someone who would not normally file a return such as lower income individuals that are not legally required to file.
- A Postal Inspector in Florida uncovered a tax refund scheme whereby refunds were going into debit-card accounts via thieves using the social security numbers (SSN) of dead people. Direct deposit is preferred as it doesn’t require a mailing address, photo ID, name or a trip to the bank.
- The IRS allows multiple direct deposits to the same bank account. A key finding in the report showed hundreds of tax returns were filed from a single address. In one case, 2,137 returns resulted in $3.3M in refunds to a home in Lansing, Michigan, and 518 returns resulted in $1.8M in refunds to a home in Tampa, Florida.
- The IRS lacks access to 3rd party information to verify returns and root out fraud. It is issuing refunds in January before it can verify data from employers and financial institutions in March. This gap provides a huge window of opportunity for thieves.
- The IRS is not gathering enough information to prevent fraud; i.e., how the return is filed, income information on the W-2, the amount of the refund and where the refund is sent.
- New screening filters that can identify false tax returns before they are processed have the potential to diminish the number of fraud cases as well as other ongoing anti-fraud procedures employed by the IRS. It is placing a unique identity theft indicator on the accounts of the deceased. As of March, 2012, 164,000 accounts were locked, possibly preventing $1.8M in fraud.
Charles Boustany, the US House of Representatives Oversight Subcommitte Chairman, who sent a letter to the IRS demanding a full accounting for the agency’s continued inability to stop tax fraud related to identity theft, declared that “this report raises serious questions regarding the IRS’s ability to detect tax fraud…”. The lost federal money is extremely troubling but there’s another loss to consider – the potential to erode taxpayer confidence in our system of tax administration.
John Sileo is an award-winning author and international speaker on the dark art of deception (identity theft, data privacy, social media manipulation) and its polar opposite, the powerful use of trust, to achieve success. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which advises teams on how to multiply performance by building a culture of deep trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. Sample his Keynote Presentation or watch him on Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes or Fox Business. 1.800.258.8076.
It’s nerve racking to realize that the IRS increasingly struggles to control taxpayer identity theft. Since 2008, the IRS has identified 470,000 incidents of identity theft affecting more than 390,000 taxpayers. “Victims of tax-related identity theft are the casualties of a system ill-equipped to deal with the growing proficiency and sophistication of today’s tax scam artists” said Sen. Bill Nelson, who chairs the newly formed Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth.
Identity theft harms innocent taxpayers through (1) employment and (2) refund fraud, according to the GAO. In refund fraud, an identity thief uses a taxpayer’s name and Social Security number to file for a tax refund, which the IRS discovers after the legitimate taxpayer files. In the meantime, the victim is out the money due her, causing Sharon Hawa of the Bronx, N.Y. to take on a second job. Ms. Hawa testified before the Subcommittee, describing how she had become an ID theft victim for the second time in three years (the first in 2009) after thieves twice filed tax returns in her name and received her tax refunds. Painstakingly proving her identity to the IRS, time after time over a 14-month period, was only a small part of the stress and utter frustration in the first fraud. And then, as if that trauma hadn’t sufficiently wreaked havoc in Ms. Hawa’s life, it happened a second time.
In employment fraud, an identity thief uses a taxpayer’s name and SSN to obtain a job. When the thief’s employer reports income to the IRS, the taxpayer appears to have unreported income on his or her return, leading to enforcement action. Think of your stress level when you open that envelope from the IRS demanding taxes for money you didn’t earn and don’t have!
The GAO states that the IRS’s ability to address identity theft issues is constrained by several factors, one being that privacy laws limit the sharing of ID theft information with other agencies. Another problem is the timing of fraud detection efforts; more than a year may have passed since the original fraud occurred. The resources necessary to pursue the large volume of potential criminal refund and employment fraud cases are another constraint.
It’s imperative that we taxpayers take responsibility and implement the steps necessary to protect ourselves. There is very little that is more damaging and dangerous to your identity than losing your tax records. After all, tax records generally contain the most sensitive personally identifying information that you own, including Social Security Numbers (for you, your spouse and maybe even your kids), names, addresses, employers, net worth, etc. Because of this high concentration of sensitive data, tax time is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for identity thieves. Here are some of the dishes on which they greedily feed:
- Tax documents exposed on your desk (home and work)
- Private information that sits unprotected in your tax-preparer’s office
- Improperly mailed, emailed and digitally transmitted or filed records
- Photocopiers with hard drives that store a digital copy of your tax forms
- Copies of sensitive documents that get thrown out without being shredded
- Improperly stored and locked documents once your return is filed
- Tax-time scams that take advantage of our propensity to do whatever the IRS says (even if it’s not really the IRS asking)
John Sileo is an award-winning author and international speaker on the dark art of deception (identity theft, data privacy, social media manipulation) and its polar opposite, the powerful use of trust, to achieve success. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which advises teams on how to multiply performance by building a culture of deep trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. Sample his Keynote Presentation (he shares how he lost $300,000, 2 years and his business to data breach) or watch him on Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes or Fox Business. 1.800.258.8076.
You’ve heard it all before – conduct online business through secure Wi-Fi only, watch your incoming mail for erroneous credit invitations, check your statements and your credit reports, and set up strong passwords and alerts, yada yada! But here are a few additional times you’ll want to be vigilant, especially this holiday season!
- Car Loans. According to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, auto loan identity theft is twice as high as any other form. Most dealerships have you complete paperwork with identifying personal data (name, address, date of birth, phone number) up to and including a loan application, which likely includes your Social Security Number. How is this data handled? Unless you actually purchase the vehicle, and your paperwork becomes part of a permanent file, refuse to complete it. Most dealerships simply toss your paperwork after 30 days if you don’t make a purchase. Their trash receptacle then becomes a pre-qualified source for identity thieves.
- The Pharmacy. Pharmacy records contain your personal identifying information (name, address, date of birth, phone number, insurance plan information, employer and often, your Social Security number). Thieves look anywhere for taking basic information to build a new identity, or to re-fill prescriptions that they can then sell. Make sure your pharmacy asks for your ID, and request confirmation that they shred personal data.
- Mortgage ID Theft. The house you’re living in may not be yours. An identity thief will obtain your personal information and use it to obtain a home loan, or an equity loan, without your knowledge. An equity loan gives the criminal quick cash. Using the value of a home is one of the easiest ways to secure cash. There have been cases where the thieves have actually sold the victim’s home while they were still living in it, and were unaware they’d been victimized. Second homes and vacation homes are especially vulnerable to this type of identity theft, as it allows the thieves a longer period of time to get cash out of the property, or sell it before the real owner is aware there is a problem. All homeowners should routinely check with their county record’s office to ensure that their information is correct. If you receive any paperwork regarding your mortgage, a transfer of your mortgage or lender, don’t toss it out, pay attention because it may be the only warning you get until a new owner is knocking at your door.
- Cyber Greeting Cards. As we head into the holiday season, a new method of hacking into your computer is lurking in those adorable greeting cards sitting in your e-mail. It blinks at you saying you’ve been sent a greeting from a “friend.”
You open it and are directed to a site where malware will invade your computer, or you will be asked to “install” software to “play” the card. When this happens, malware, that could potentially destroy your computer or allow an identity thief access to your personal data, is unleashed. Unless the name of a real person that you know is attached to the greeting card, do not open it.
The Bottom Line
There is no way to protect your identity 100% of the time. Often, what happens to your personal information is completely out of your control. The only option you have is to be constantly diligent in tracking your information, protecting your information and asking where that information is going. You have the right to ask, you have the right to know and you have the right to withdraw that information if you feel uncomfortable.
Original story – 5 Overlooked Places Where Your Identity Can Be Stolen
UPI.com wrote a story on the punishment for a recent Identity Theft case which shows how sentencing is finally catching up to the severity of this crime.
Oscar Diaz and his confederates used items stolen from parked cars to get money from their victims’ bank accounts, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported. Prosecutors say they stole from people attending funerals.
“Diaz’s co-conspirators would even follow funeral processions in order to target cars parked at graveyards,” a release from Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said.
Diaz, 30, of Fort Lauderdale pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore earlier this month to aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. At a hearing Friday he was ordered to pay the victims $130,000.
Investigators said Diaz and seven others, most of them from the Fort Lauderdale area, stole at least $200,000 during a few months in 2009. They stole identification from cars parked outside day-care centers, supermarkets and churches and used it to impersonate the victims at their banks.
Diaz’s co-defendants have already pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
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