The headline is a mouthful. But ID thieves love tax season and find ways to cash in on your refund. Here’s a couple of reasons why you should be worried:
• 145 million of us had our personal information compromised in the Equifax breach
• Information from 3 billion accounts were hacked at Yahoo
• Uber had the information of 57 million users stolen
And the list goes on.
As Weekly Industry News recently reported, Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB) did a survey and found one in three of us have seen our personal information stolen. In a different survey of small and mid-sized businesses, HSB found over half have experienced a cyber attack and close to one-third said they had data stolen.
Most of us store financial and tax information on our personal computers. Businesses keep personal and tax records of employees, vendors and contractors on their computers.
That data is a treasure for data thieves to mine. Thieves can also grab information from telephone scams, phishing schemes and in bunches of other ways.
In the afore mentioned attacks names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers and other private information was lost. So thieves have all the information they need from you to file a phony tax return in your name and take your refund.
The Internal Revenue Service said in 2013 over five-million tax returns came from stolen identities. It amounted to $30 billion in refunds. The IRS did manage to recover $24 million of that amount.
In 2015 the IRS and tax industry workers and business owners cracked down on tax fraud and in 2016 stopped 883,000 tax returns tied to ID theft. That’s a 37% drop from 2015.
Timothy Zeilman is the vice president and counsel for strategic products for HSB. He gave some examples of what’s going on:
• A man on a college campus had 32 credit cards in the names of others and 100 stolen identities on his lap top. He used each card in an attempt to get a refund
• One criminal — already convicted of similar crimes — took notebooks full of stolen personal information and filed over 200 fraudulent tax refunds worth about $1.2 million
• A cash checking store owner cashed $11 million in tax refunds from 2,000 fraudulent filings
Most of us discover we’ve been hacked when efiling a return.
The IRS will often send us a letter saying it is suspicious of a return using our Social Security number and in that letter is a number identifying the correspondence. When you call — and the IRS says call immediately if you get that notice — you will be asked for that number.
Do not — and it’s surprising how many people do — fall for a phone call or an email saying the IRS is threatening to sue you or have you arrested. The IRS does not work that way.
Zeilman issued some guidelines that ought to be followed:
• If you file your tax return online, do so from your home or a secure network. Don’t file your return electronically from a public Wi-Fi network, where hackers could steal your information.
• Keep home operating systems current with the latest security patches. While appropriate defense systems vary greatly based on the system, a simple preventative measure includes turning on the automatic update feature in many of your security programs.
• Double-check the security of your home computer network and other connected devices. Protect your computer network by using strong passwords and change them often.
• Closely monitor mailed financial documents. Criminals look for W-2s, tax refunds or other mail containing financial information. If it looks like mail has been previously opened upon delivery, contact the IRS immediately.
• Use a secure mailbox. If you’re filing by mail, post your tax return inside a post office facility. If that’s not possible, drop your tax return at an official postal box instead of your mailbox at home. And remember — criminals have been known to steal mail from outdoor boxes.
• Check your homeowners insurance policy for identity theft coverage. Agents and brokers should help educate clients about the risk of identity theft and the need for insurance protection.
• Insurers should include identity theft coverage in their policies. Personal lines coverage can include online fraud, ransomware and other threats, while data breach and cyber insurance should be standard coverage for small and large businesses.
Zeilman suggests sharing this information with your customers.
If you have questions you can reach him at: Timothy_Zeilman@hsb.com.
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