How to Prevent Identity Theft During Tax Season
The fastest growing crime in America is identity theft with over 8 million victims in 2010. While it isn't as prevalent in Wyoming, which ranks 35th among states in identity theft complaints, tax season is an especially vulnerable time.
"Individuals can go out there, pose as you, file your taxes and get your return before you," says Tami Nealy, a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist for LifeLock. " The list goes on and on about how you can be compromised with your personal information.
"You've given your name, address and social security number to every doctor, dentist, employer, and financial institution. The fact is criminals just want to go out, get your personal information and turn it into money."
While Commander Mitch Cushman from the Laramie Police Department agrees that there are a number of scams and a variety of ways for identity thieves to get your information, he says a common scam in Laramie is through email. Cushman says people will receive an email that urges them to make contact through information provided in the email.
"Only converse with those that you initiated the contact with," recommends Cushman and that's advice Nealy agrees with, especially if you receive emails related to your taxes.
"The IRS very clearly and very loudly says, 'we do not initiate contact with taxpayers via email,'" says Nealy. "But there are groups of identity thieves out there that want to send you an email that says, 'We received your electronic return this year, there is a problem on page six, please call us at this number to solve the issue that we have here.' You may see that the email is from irs.com, well the IRS website is irs.gov."
Both say that if you receive an email you are unsure of, you should try to contact the sender by means other than what they give you. If they claim to be from your bank, then find your last statement and call the number listed there.
"Nine times out of ten, you're going to find out that it really wasn't that agency reaching out to you." says Nealy. "And if it was, you can solve whatever issue you may have with them by you initiating the phone call to a trusted number, not the number they put in the email."
Nealy also says that in general, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. She also warns about putting information like your phone number and full birth date on social media sites because once someone has your personal information, it can very difficult to track them down and stop them from using it to their advantage.
"It's a very difficult thing to solve because it's an international event," warns Cushman. "It's very hard to track back to the original source to make a claim of restitution or even a criminal charge."
If you do suspect you have become a victim of identity theft both Cushman and Nealy advise that you contact your local police department as well as contacting any companies that control your accounts.
One thing is for sure according to Commander Cushman, "prevention is always the best way to go."
If you are looking for secure help with your taxes, there is free filing help available at the Albany County Public Library. You can find more tips on preventing identity theft by visiting LifeLock's website or calling them at 1(800)543-3562. You can also listen below to Tami Nealy's full interview with Kari Eakins from Laramie Live.