With tax-filing season a prime time for identity theft scammers to prey on unsuspecting consumers, the AARP Fraud Watch Network is reminding Delaware taxpayers that submitting their tax returns as soon as is practical can greatly reduce their chances of being victimized by a fraudulent return.
The IRS reports that taxpayers lost more than $3 billion to tax-related identity theft during 2014. This scam occurs when a fraudster steals your Social Security number and files a tax return in your name to claim a fraudulent refund.
“We recommend that taxpayers file their returns as soon as they receive all of the necessary paperwork,” said George Meldrum, AARP Delaware State President. “None of us are eager to work on our tax returns, but if you procrastinate until close to the filing deadline you are giving an identity thief the maximum amount of time to steal your personal information and file a fraudulent return.”
While consumers must be constantly vigilant to guard against falling victim to identity theft, the good news is that there are simple steps you can take to prevent your personal information from becoming compromised. The AARP Fraud Watch Network recommends:
- Mail tax returns directly from the post office. If filing electronically, use a secure network and encrypt.
- Stay safe online. Do not respond to emails that appear to be from the IRS, and never click on links. The IRS does not send unsolicited, tax-account related emails and never asks for personal and financial information.
- Protect your personal information. Never store important account numbers or data in purses or wallets, or on smartphones. Use a shredder for paper documents, and install a locking mailbox.
- Monitor your accounts and review financial statements regularly. Sign up for your free annual credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
If you think you may have been targeted by an ID theft scheme, refer to the IRS Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft and report it to the appropriate government agencies.
The Fraud Watch Network also is conducting an advertising and public outreach campaign during the current tax season to warn Delawareans about the IRS Imposter Scam. In this scam, criminals impersonating IRS agents telephone people and tell them that they are in serious trouble for non-payment of back taxes. The targets are aggressively threatened with police arrest, court action or confiscation of property unless they make immediate payment. The FWN’s advertising and an online video emphasize that that legitimate IRS representatives do not call to demand immediate payment, threaten arrest or demand immediate payment via credit or debit card.
Finally, AARP is reminding taxpayers who need filing assistance and cannot afford a tax preparation service that they may take advantage of AARP Foundation Tax-Aide. Now in its 51st year, Tax-Aide is the nation’s largest free tax assistance service and is offered in more than 5,000 locations nationwide. For more information, visit www.aarp.org/findtaxhelp or call 1-888-AARPNOW (1-888-227-7669).
About the Fraud Watch Network
The AARP Fraud Watch Network was launched in 2013 as a free resource for people of all ages. The website provides information about fraud and scams, prevention tips from experts, an interactive scam-tracking map, fun educational quizzes, and video presentations featuring Fraud Watch Network Ambassador Frank Abagnale. Users may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails that deliver breaking scam information, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling.