Income tax identity theft and refund fraud has become a huge problem over the last few years; and while billions of dollars are finding their way into the pockets of fraudsters, the IRS is working hard to shut down these schemes.
The IRS paid roughly $5.8 billion dollars in fraudulent refunds to identity thieves over the course of the 2013 filing season. While that is a huge number, it could have been a lot worse. During the same time period, the amount the IRS successfully prevented or recovered totaled around $24.2 billion. But these statistics only take into consideration the fraud we know about.
Identity theft isn’t just a threat during tax season, scammers are exploiting a lot of cracks in your armor. Listen to episode 12: the great data saver on unsuitable on Rea Radio for insight from Joe Welker, CISA
The Unknown Number
While it is nice to know that the IRS is working hard to prevent identity theft and refund fraud, the truth is that we don’t yet have all the information to determine how bad the income tax fraud epidemic really is. This means that we continue to be at risk of becoming a fraud victim again this tax season. Perhaps if we knew how many fraudulent tax returns went on to be processed and how many billions of dollars were paid out to scammers looking to make a quick buck we could finally make some educated assumptions about the likelihood of being defrauded out of your refund check.
I don’t like not having all the necessary information.
This year, income tax fraud is expected to be higher than ever. This video, produced by abc6 out of Columbus, Ohio, shines more light on the topic of identity theft in Ohio.
Calling In Reinforcements
The IRS has realized that identity theft and refund fraud are threats that are showing no signs of going away. So the agency has requested help. The Internal Revenue Service, in cooperation with state tax administrators and tax industry leaders, has formed a public-private sector partnership to identify and test more than 20 new data elements on tax return submissions that will be shared with the IRS to detect and prevent fraudulent filings. The software industry is doing its part by putting enhanced identity validation requirements in place to protect customers and their personal information from identity thieves.
As of October 2015, 34 state departments of revenue and 20 tax industry members have signed memorandums of understanding regarding coalition’s roles, responsibilities and information sharing measures. More states are expected to sign on later.
Taxpayers Are Encouraged To Fight Back Against Fraud
Over the last 3 years, the IRS has initiated more than 3,000 fraud investigations. Those investigations have gone forward to convict and sentence close to 2,000 thieves to around 40 months in prison apiece. But there is still much to be done. They are doing their part. We as taxpayers have to do ours.
In January, the IRS launched the “Taxes. Security. Together.” initiative to educate taxpayers on income tax identity theft and ways they can safeguard their information and protect themselves. According to the agency, there are several ways you can protect yourself from identity theft – especially during tax season:
- Keep your computer secure
- Avoid phishing email and malware
- Protect your personal information
Above all, choose your tax preparer wisely and make sure they take their responsibility to safeguard your information very seriously. A tax preparer can also help if you do encounter a situation in which your information could be compromised.
By Joseph Popp, JD, LLM (Dublin office)