Because identity theft typically increases during filing season, the Internal Revenue Service continues to alert consumers to be on the lookout for any suspicious emails containing the IRS name or logo. If you receive an email claiming to come from that agency, chances are someone is trying to gain access to your personal and financial information, and you have officially become a target for identity theft.
It is important to note that the IRS does not engage individuals through email.
In addition to email scams, each year also brings an increase in the number of reported identity thefts traced to stolen mail, online tax filing security holes, and easy access to financial records that often people leave thrown around on their desktops. Although identity theft cannot be prevented, you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim of this crime by taking a few precautionary steps.
Here are some tips from the Consumer Wise newsletter produced by Alejandra Castro Nunez at Miami-Dade County’s Business Affairs Division:
• Safeguard your mail. During tax season, safeguarding your mail is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. Millions of W-2 forms are mailed out by the Jan. 31 deadline, and if you don’t have a locked mailbox, your W-2 with your social security number, address, employment, and salary information can easily be stolen by an identity thief. Consider investing in a locking mailbox. A variety of locking boxes in many price ranges can be obtained by shopping on the web or visiting local retailers.
• Steer clear of phishing emails. Do not reply or open any e-mails or attachments which claim to come from the IRS. Immediately forward the email to the IRS at email@example.com . The IRS defines phishing as a scam in which Internet fraudsters send email messages to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal and financial information that can be used to steal the victims’ identity. Current scams include phony emails which claim to come from the IRS and which lure the victims into the scam by telling them that they are due a tax refund.
• Be wary of instant refund scams. Some unscrupulous and predatory tax preparers prey upon low-income earners with promises of “fast money” at tax refund time. Their victims often do not realize that an instant refund is actually a “refund anticipation loan” that could end up costing half of their refund in the form of interest and fees.
If you receive a notice in the mail from the IRS alerting you of possible identity theft, respond immediately. If you believe you may be at risk of becoming an identity theft victim, due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
For more consumer tips, visit the Business Affairs Division website at www.miamidade.gov/business or call 305-375-3677.