ROCKFORD — As tax season begins, officials say it could be open season for identity thieves and IRS imposters.
According to the Better Business Bureau identity theft is a major issue and should be top of mind for all taxpayers. With impostor scams running rampant, taxpayers and tax professionals are at risk.
Tax identity theft occurs when someone uses a stolen Social Security Number to file a phony tax return and collect the refund. IRS imposters are scammers who pretend to be calling from the IRS. They can also send fake emails and texts in order to attempt to steal information or spread malware to your computer.
“The imposters use a two-pronged attack,” said Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau. “First, they’ll claim you owe back taxes and must pay up immediately. “That’s the initial grab for your money. Second, they’ll need your Social Security number to help get this all cleared up. That’s the key to filing a false tax return and beating you to your tax refund.”
Horton said a target of a tax identity thief or IRS impostor won’t find until they file their tax return and it’s rejected as a duplicate filing.
A recent Federal Trade Commission report shows that 1.4 million identity theft complaints were filed in 2020, nearly double the number filed in 2019.
“Last year’s average tax refund was more than $2,500,” Horton said. “More than 150 million returns are expected to be filed this year. If the thieves and scammers are able to capture just a fraction of those dollars, they’ll get a big payoff.”
The IRS has also issued a warning to tax professionals, asks them to be on the lookout for anyone trying to steal information.
Taxpayers must be proactive in filing their return and safeguarding their refunds. Horton says the best way for taxpayers to protect themselves is to safeguard their Social Security numbers throughout the year, avoid texts or emails pretending to be from the IRS or Treasury Department, and find trustworthy tax preparers by checking reviews and ratings at BBB.org.
Other tips include filing tax return as early as possible, using secure internet connections for filing online, and mailing tax returns directly from the post office.