(BPT) – It’s the time of year when Americans gather their financial documents and anxiously await news of a tax refund or debt. While many hope to get money back, Time Magazine recently reported that the IRS paid an estimated $5 billion plus in false tax refunds in 2013, and according to Bloomberg Business that number could potentially grow to $21 billion by 2017.
“Technology has changed the way we live, offering consumers more convenient ways to take care of common activities like filing taxes,” says Jean Vernor, senior vice president at MetLife. “However, taxpayers should be aware that these technological advances have also made it easier for criminals to commit identity theft. Consumers need to be aware of how and where they divulge personal information and take steps to monitor the data that must be shared.”
Identity thieves commonly use a person’s real Social Security number to claim fraudulent wages and file taxes, accepting that individual’s deserved refund. Taxpayers bear responsibility for accuracy of submitted tax returns, regardless of whether the return was prepared by an individual taxpayer or a tax preparer. Unfortunately for many, this means spending a lot of time and money to rectify the situation and minimize the long-term effects caused by identity theft.
Avoid the scams
Criminals use an array of tactics to steal personal information and file a false tax return. Know the common scams and take steps to avoid them.
Phone scams: The IRS reports that 2015 has seen a surge in phone scams from criminals impersonating authorities to obtain personal information. Phone scams are often aggressive and may threaten police arrest, deportation and license revocation, among other things, in order to scare victims into handing over information. Do not entertain a conversation with a hostile “IRS representative” and hang up immediately if the call seems suspicious.
Phishing: As daily activities continue to move online, cybercriminals are finding ways to take advantage of the Internet. Criminals may send consumers fake emails or to websites that look official, but are really designed to steal personal information. The IRS will not send taxpayers emails about bills, refunds or personal information and following insecure links from these sources may lead to identity theft.
Return preparer fraud: The IRS reports that about 60 percent of taxpayers seek assistance when submitting their taxes, but some tax preparers are actually criminals in disguise. Never sign a blank tax form and avoid tax preparers who claim they can deliver a higher refund than others. Choose a well-known tax preparer and ensure that he or she will be available even after the return is filed to answer outstanding questions.
To stay safe during tax season, prevention and information monitoring is essential. Sign up for a free 30-day trial of MetLife Defender, a comprehensive personal data protection service that will monitor and protect your important information.