Tax time, whether it’s in April, June, October or December, often puts important personal identifying information at risk for exposure. Your W-2’s, and other IRS reporting forms, include your Social Security Number and, in some cases, financial account information. These numbers can be a gold mine for identity thieves. Your personal information can enable thief to obtain a job, open up new lines of credit, access existing financial accounts or stock portfolios, get welfare, avoid a criminal history and generally create havoc in your life.

The question is: where are those forms kept in your home? Are they lying on a table top or somewhere anyone can see them? Or, are they in a locked box or file cabinet? Many consumers are not aware of the potential threat that these forms represent, and take little notice of the necessary steps which should be taken to secure these items. With this in mind, the ITRC wants to remind consumers and businesses to be careful when handling tax-related documents and information.

Here are some tips on how to minimize the risk of identity theft:

Paper security

Whether it’s in the home or in the office, make sure all tax documents and paperwork are secured in a safe, locked location at all times. Any financial statement or item which contains personal identifying information (PII) should not be left unsecured or visible to others.

Data on the Move

Financial documents don’t belong in a briefcase left unattended in your car. Law enforcement has reported increases in vehicle break-ins to steal items which can be used to commit identity theft. When transferring tax documents between home and the accountant, make sure they are hidden from view, i.e. locked in the trunk, at all times.

Computer Security

If your computer is linked to the internet, be sure to regularly update firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software to protect you from attack. Since many taxpayers now file online, or store financial information on their computers, it is vitally important to install and update these types of security programs. Sensitive documents should be kept on a computer with a password protected log-on. This computer should never be used by children others who might install peer-to-peer software or expose the computer to unrestricted web browsing. These activities often result in security problems within days, if not hours.

E-Filing

While preparing your tax return for filing, make sure to use a strong password to protect the data file. Once your return has been e-filed, burn the file to a CD or flash drive and remove the personal information from your hard drive. Store the CD or flash drive in a lock box or safe. If working with an accountant, you should query them on what measures they take to protect your information.

Mail Theft Awareness

Be sure to retrieve your mail every day. An unlocked mailbox is an open invitation to an identity thief to steal your tax refund or other important documents. When mailing your tax documents, take them directly to the Post Office. Drop them in a box inside the Post Office. If you must use an outside Post Office pickup box, it’s best to drop your mail before the last pick-up of the day. Don’t leave tax documents in an outgoing mail box at work.

Tax Preparers and Personal Privacy

Be selective about who works on your taxes. Investigate tax preparation companies with the Better Business Bureau, especially new or seasonal offices. Ask the preparer how your information will be stored? Will it be encrypted? What computer security software is used? Who has access to this information? Has the person working on your taxes undergone a thorough background screening? How many years have they worked for the company? Do you see personal papers displayed on desks? Trust your impressions. If you feel uncomfortable, or doubt the firm’s commitment to protecting your privacy, take your business elsewhere. The phrase “buyer beware” especially applies to “on-line tax preparers.” Who are these people? What do you know about them? Are they really a company or legitimate accountant or is it a scam to gather Social Security and account information from you? Avoid doing financial business in supermarkets, or other public concession booths, where others may hear or see your transaction. Those mini offices are not soundproof – and criminals have been observed using binoculars or shoulder surfing to gather information. Go some place where you have privacy.

Tax Time Scams

If you receive an email asking for your Social Security Number or financial information, delete it or send it to the FTC at spam@uce.gov for investigation. The IRS does not send emails stating you are being electronically audited or that you are getting a refund. If you have any questions about an email you received from the IRS, or a letter that sounds suspicious, immediately call the IRS Taxpayers Advocates at 877-777-4778.

Document Disposal

Put papers you no longer need through a cross-cut shredder. These include credit card receipts, other papers with Social Security Numbers (i.e. income reporting forms), financial statements, health benefit statements and loan documents. Do not store these documents intending to shred them at some future time. As soon as you determine the document is no longer needed, shred it!

Document Storage

When storing your tax returns and other sensitive financial documents, use a locking file cabinet or even better, a safe. Make sure you know who else has access to this storage.

Employment Identity Theft

Identity theft goes beyond the well-known forms of financial identity theft. Sometimes identity thieves use your identity to get a job, obtain welfare, or medical services. They may be employed and using your Social Security Number – or even your child’s Social Security Number. In these situations, the IRS may send a notice indicating that more than one person is using a Social Security Number, or that you owe taxes. If this happens, immediately contact the IRS Taxpayer Advocates or the Identity Theft Resource Center at 858-693-7935 for assistance.

A recently published consumer report is advocating the general idea that identity theft is a diminishing crime and that most services offered to protect consumers hold little, if any, value. The trouble is, their research in many places is superficial and/or incomplete, and in some places completely irrelevant. It seems as though for a piece regarding the existence of identity theft, the experts who provided opinions on the topics, were not experts in identity theft at all.

All major federal agencies that have anything to do with identity theft have universally said that incidence of identity theft are getting worse, not better. That includes organizations like the FBI, FTC, and DOJ. According to the same Department of Justice study that is cited in questionable pieces includes the statement, “in 2010 about 7% of households in the US (about 8.6 million) had at least one member age 12 or older who had experienced one or more types of identity theft victimization.” While that is a slight decrease from the 2009 number of 7.3%, it should not be overlooked that the overall trend is still very much an upward one.

According to the aforementioned study only 5.5% (about 6.4 million households) experienced this same type of victimization in 2005. It should be noted that 2010 is the first year that any decrease can be seen anywhere in the numbers over the last five years.

Further, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal agency most responsible for monitoring identity theft activity in the United States, found that identity theft has been the top complaint from consumers in their annual survey for the past eleven years running. These are not merely concerns being expressed mind you. These numbers have nothing to do with subjective fears which can be influenced by paranoia and outside influences, but are actual complaints, i.e. incidents of identity theft being reported.

As the Victim Advisors at the ITRC have dealt with victims of criminal identity theft almost every day for the last ten plus years, we feel somewhat more qualified to talk about this issue from a truly “expert” perspective. Anecdotally, I can tell you that I speak with a victim of criminal identity theft nearly every single day. For something that “doesn’t happen a lot,” it sure happens a lot, and to those who have to go through it, it means a lot to have someone on their side helping them through it.

There are several situations in which identity theft can affect the processing of a tax return. Most involve someone misusing someone’s Social Security number (SSN), which the IRS uses to make sure the filing is accurate and complete and that they get any refund they are due.

It could be a sign of identity theft if a taxpayer receives an IRS notice that:taxes

  • More than one tax return was filed for one tax year, or
  • IRS records indicate a taxpayer received wages from an employer they don’t know.

If someone uses a taxpayer’s SSN to file for a tax refund before the taxpayer does, the IRS may believe the taxpayer has already filed and received their refund. The taxpayer might not know this until they get a letter from the IRS indicating that more than one return was filed for them.

If someone has used a taxpayer’s SSN to get a job, the employer may report that person’s income to the IRS using the taxpayer’s SSN, making it appear to the IRS as if the taxpayer did not report all of their income on their tax return. In that situation, the IRS might send the taxpayer a notice that they appear to have received wages from an employer they don’t know.

If You Suspect Identity Theft – Contact the IRS

If you get a notice from the IRS, respond immediately to the name and number printed on the notice. If you think you have tax issues related to identity theft, let the IRS know as soon as possible, even if you don’t have any evidence that it’s affected your tax return. Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit (IPSU) at 1-800-908-4490. The IPSU’s hours are 8:00 am to 8:00 pm (your local time).

Specialists will work with you to get your tax return filed, get you any refund you are due, and protect your account from identity thieves in the future. You can document the identity theft by submitting a police report or the IRS ID Theft Affidavit (Form 14039).

You’ll have to prove your identity with a copy of a valid government-issued identification, like your Social Security card, driver’s license or passport.

We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to ITRC Blog.

After any kind of data breach or hacking event, there are a handful of possibilities for what criminals will do with your stolen information. The outcome typically depends on what types of data they were able to steal, but possibilities include holding it for ransom to prove to a company that they were hacked, using it themselves for identity theft and fraud, or selling your records on the Dark Web to others who would use it.

Considering the heavy emotional and financial toll that identity theft can have on its victims, it’s shocking how little a consumer’s record can sell for on this internet black market. Recent studies have shown just how much money your life is worth to a scammer.

1. Credit card or debit card information – Hackers used to actively seek out credit and debit card numbers, as well as any PIN numbers or security codes associated with those cards. Due to better fraud detection and things like “card not present” transaction alerts from financial institutions, it’s easier than ever to spot criminal use of someone’s card and cancel that account. That could be why card account logins only fetch a few dollars. According to McAfee’s recent findings, a card number with the CVV2 code from the back is worth between $5-$8 dollars, but if it also comes with the bank’s ID number, it could go for $15 online. If the stolen credentials included something called “fullz,” that is, the card owner’s complete information, that would be worth around $30.

2. Online Payment Service Account Information – Whether it’s your own bank account that you can access and use online or a payment service like PayPal, there’s an interesting finding of the value of these stolen logins: the higher your available balance, the more money the criminal pays to purchase it from the original thief. For example, McAfee’s “The Hidden Data Economy” found:

$400-$1000 Balance is worth $20-$50
$1000-$2500 Balance is worth $50-$120
$2500-$5000 Balance is worth $120-$200
$5000-$8000 Balance is worth $200-$300

3. Medical Identities – When people think of identity theft, they tend to overlook their medical identities. This is the information contained in your medical records, such as your name, address, Social Security number, health insurance ID number, prescription medications, or other necessary information. A study by NPR found that a group of ten Medicare numbers will fetch about $4700 online; it’s important to remember that Medicare numbers—unlike most health insurance numbers now—are still currently the member’s Social Security number, which can make the stolen profiles doubly valuable.

But what about a typical case of stolen identities where the victim’s name, address, phone number, birth date, Social Security number, and other details are just thrown onto the black market for someone to steal? They go for about twenty dollars each at the current market prices.

Interestingly, selling a stolen set of “fullz” online isn’t a one-and-done proposition. Once a thief has accessed someone’s complete identity, he can sell the same records to multiple customers. That means the work of recovering from the crime can feel insurmountable; you resolve one issue with a credit card someone opened up in Minnesota only to turn around and get a bill for a medical procedure in Florida. That’s why it’s important to start your recovery process with an identity theft report, and then by reaching out to agencies that can give you clear instructions on what to do next.


If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.

What is a Social Networking Site?

Social networking websites are a place for internet users to come together, often in groups sharing common interests in hobbies, religion or politics. These websites may require a minimum amount of personal information in order to join. Profile pages, telling other users about yourself, are another standard. Once you are granted access to a social networking website you can begin to socialize. This socialization may include reading the profile pages of other members and possibly even contacting them.

 

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when an imposter gains access to personal identifying information (PII) and uses it for personal gain and exploitation.

HOW IDENTITY THEFT MIGHT HAPPEN THROUGH SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES
Because you must divulge some level of personal information in order to use and fully benefit from social networking sites, the risk of identity theft exists for people who use them. Below are some of the ways that you might put yourself at risk of identity theft:

  • Using low privacy or no privacy settings
  • Accepting invitations to connect from unfamiliar persons or contacts
  • Downloading free applications for use on your profile
  • Giving your password or other account details to people you know
  • Participating in quizzes (e.g. How well do you know me?) which may require you to divulge a lot of personal information
  • Clicking on links that lead you to other websites, even if the link was sent to you by a friend or posted on your friend’s profile
  • Falling for email scams (phishing) that ask you to update your social networking profiles
  • Using no or out-of-date security software to prevent malicious software from being loaded onto your computer and stealing personal information

Here are some examples of how people may become victims of identity theft through social networking sites:

Example 1: A man receives a message from one of his friends which has a link to a funny video, so he clicks on it. The link does not bring up a video. The friend’s profile had been hacked, and now a form of malicious software is being downloaded onto the man’s computer as a result of him clicking the link. This software is designed to open a way for an identity thief to take personal information from the man’s system. It additionally sends a similar email to everybody he is connected with on his profile, asking them to “view the video”. Downloading free applications and software can be sources of this type of malicious software, too.
Example 2: Someone has hacked a woman’s social networking profile to harass her and sabotage her online reputation. They are posting embarrassing photos and rude comments on her profile. These photos and comments appear to be from her and are directed to her network of contacts, when in fact they are not. Although she has used the highest level of privacy settings, she has shared too much information online with others. Someone used her posted information to fraudulently access her profile. Always remember, that even though your profile may be set to “private”, treat everything you post online as public.
Example 3: Cybercriminals sometimes will create a page that looks just like the introductory page to a favorite social networking site. This page will ask you to re-enter your password. These criminals will get you to this page from a link in an email or private message or public post with a link to a fraudulent site. If you are already logged in to a networking site and then asked to log in again, be aware that it is a red flag and it is probably a scam designed to make you divulge a lot of personal information to someone with bad intentions.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF:

  • Use the least amount of information necessary to register for and use the site. Use a nick-name or handle (although this is not possible with certain sites),
  • Create a strong password and change it often. Use a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and characters that are not connected to your personal information (such as birthdates, addresses, last names, etc.).
  • Use the highest level privacy settings that the site allows. Do not accept default settings.
  • Be wise about what you post. Do not announce when you will be leaving town. Other things you should never post publicly: your address, phone number, driver’s license number, social security number (SSN), student ID number and even your home town. Thieves can figure out your social security number by what town you were born in and what year. It’s ok to post what year or how old you are, but with this information combined with where you were born, they can figure out your SSN.
  • Only connect to people you already know and trust. Don’t put too much out there – even those you know could use your information in a way you didn’t intend.
  • Read privacy and security policies closely – know what you’re getting into. Some major social networking sites actually say they will use or sell information about you (not individual data necessarily, but aggregate information based on your personal information and that of others using their site) in order to display advertising or other information they believe might be useful to you.
  • Verify emails and links in emails you supposedly get from your social networking site (e.g. the recent Facebook scam emails that asked customers to re-set their passwords). These are often designed to gain access to your user name, password, and ultimately your personal information.
  • Unclick the privacy settings that display the time stamps of your posts.
  • Install a firewall, reputable anti-spam and anti-virus software to protect your information– and keep it updated!

Be certain of BOTH the source AND content of each file you download! Don’t download an executable program just to “check it out.” If it’s malicious software, the first time you run it, you’re system is already infected! In other words, you need to be sure that you trust not only the person or file server that gave you the file, but also the contents of the file itself.

Beware of hidden file extensions! Windows by default hides the last name extension of a file, so that an innocuous-looking picture file, such as “susie.jpg”, might really be “susie.jpg.exe”, an executable Trojan or other malicious software! To avoid being tricked, unhide those pesky extensions, so you can see them.

Use common sense. When in doubt, don’t open it, download it, add it, or give information you may have doubts about sharing.

There are various types of identity theft, for example, financial, governmental, medical, and criminal. Child identity theft usually involves one or more of these types. Therefore, child identity theft is not a standalone category.

ID theft trends It is important to keep in mind that each case involving a child’s identity requires multiple steps of correction. Furthermore, since the elapsed time between the crime and the moment of discovery may be extended over a period of years, child identity theft cases may be more serious and complex. The age of the victim is often times a factor considered in the mitigation steps, and what actions will be required.

As child identity theft becomes a growing concern for parents, many question why thieves target children’s identities. There are several factors why a child’s identity may be the perfect target. One of those factors is that parents would never think of checking a child’s credit history. Children should not have established credit histories because they are not 18-years-old; therefore, they are not of legal age to enter into a contract. One would never suspect any fraudulent activity. This gives the thieves the perfect cover-up, and certainly the necessary time to commit the crime and exploit the identity. A second factor is the wide open possibilities that the child’s identity represents. It provides a clean and fresh start – in any and every way you look at it. For instance, the Credit Reporting Agencies have no way of verifying whether a Social Security number (SSN) belongs to a minor. Therefore, a credit report is established and associated with the first pieces of personal identifying information received. A child’s identity may also be used for other purposes such as – employment, to receive medical services, or evade law enforcement violations, amongst others.

There is no one way to pinpoint how a child’s identity is stolen. Often times, it may be as a result of thieves creating a “fake” 9-digit number and the number happens to be a legitimate SSN assigned to a child. Another instance may be that thieves figured out the way SSNs were generated before it was even assigned by the Social Security Administration. Furthermore, it may be as a result of a stolen document containing the child’s SSN. Unfortunately, in some cases, the child’s identity may have been stolen by a child’s family member or relative.

Over the past year, child identity theft has been a widely covered topic in the media. With this exposure, the issue has become a growing concern for parents, government entities, credit reporting agencies and legislators alike. A child’s identity represents an opportunity that is surrounded by a combination of circumstances – often favorable to the thief.