Tax Identity Theft Awareness week, so designated by the FTC, ends on January 30, 2015.
As anyone acquainted with me knows, I was the Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) Coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles before I left for private practice. I have also spoken for the Annual Meeting of the California Bar and published on the subject. Every year, the FTC issues a report with statistics on complaints from consumers, and it comes as no surprise to me that SIRF crimes again top the list of complaints for the most recent 2014 report. To anyone who has a phone, it would also come as no surprise that the number of scam calls has risen drastically, being reported 24 times more than the previous year. The FTC press release can be found here. Tomorrow, there is a twitter chat on Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.
Information from prior reports form the Federal Trade Commission shows that complaints of tax or wage-related fraud grew from 15.6% in 2010 to 24.3% in 2011, 43.4% in 2012, and 30% in 2013. The press release shows an increase over 2013, stating:
In 2013, the FTC received 2,545 complaints about IRS imposter scams; in 2014 that number increased to 54,690. In 2014, the FTC received 109,063 complaints about tax identity theft, accounting for 32.8 percent of the 332,646 overall complaints about identity theft.
The press release gives the following advice to those who want to avoid becoming, or who suspect they may already be, a victim of SIRF or an IRS imposter scam:
Consumers have tools to fight back against these pervasive scams, though. When it comes to tax identity theft, consumers’ best defense is to file their taxes as early as possible to get ahead of scammers who may attempt to use their Social Security number to get a fraudulent refund. If a consumer is a victim of tax identity theft, they should contact the FTC to file a complaint immediately either online or by phone at 1-877-FTC-HELP, as well as contacting the IRS at 1-800-908-4490.
IRS impersonation scams prey on consumers’ lack of knowledge about how the IRS contacts consumers. The IRS will never call a consumer about unpaid taxes or penalties – the agency typically contacts consumers via letter. If consumers get a call purporting to be from the IRS, they should never send money – once it’s sent to the criminal, it is impossible to retrieve. They should instead hang up and report the scam to the FTC and to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov.