2014 was the fifth consecutive year that taxpayer identity theft was the number one form of identity theft (about one-third of all complaints reported to the FTC). Identity thieves primarily use this stolen information to file false tax returns with the IRS in order to claim fraudulent refunds. Mark Pribish of Merchants Information Solutions, Inc. discusses the problem and explains steps you can take to protect yourself and your business.
Merchants Information Solutions “is in the ID theft, and data breach risk management business.” The company supports businesses large and small in attempting to prevent such breaches or to recover from them. Pribish suggests that those interested in learning more about identity theft and data breach should look at information from Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Identity Theft Resource Center. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse reports that, since 2005, there have been about 4,400 data breach events affecting nearly a billion records. Many of these hacks are related to “insiders,” current and former employees, vendors, or customers. The concern is personal identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers.
Pribish points out that small businesses are in fact perfect targets for data hackers. Small and medium sized companies are probably more vulnerable than large companies that have implemented very strong data protection measures. “Cybercriminals are now targeting the low-hanging fruit,” and that means small business owners. Small business owners are so focused on making profit that they may not devote much time or money to data security. Pribish explains that every business will have current and former employees, and for all of these people, the business may have on record SS numbers, driver’s license numbers, and bank account numbers.
The FTC’s annual report is a collection of consumer reports from around the country. For the past fifteen years, identity theft has been the number one consumer complaint, and for the last five years, taxpayer ID theft and fraud has been the highest number of ID theft complaints. The form this takes is that criminals steal taxpayer ID information and use that information to file fraudulent returns claiming tax refunds. Another way the information is misused is to scam unsuspecting victims—typically senior citizens and immigrants—by posing as IRS agents demanding that the victim pay up taxes allegedly overdue. Pribish says that you should hang up on any such call, as the IRS will only contact you by letter.
There are ways businesses and people can protect themselves. The first thing, especially for individuals, is to file your tax return as quickly as possible. This will help to prevent a scammer from filing a return in your name before you do. This is extremely important because the IRS will never process two returns on the same SSN at once. If you file second you may have to wait for months, perhaps a year, to get your return processed and receive your refund. Also, Pribish recommends that returns be filed online, as this is by far the safest choice. Also, people should shred old tax documents that are no longer needed, and to check on their credit bureau repots every four months. The IRS has some resources available as well.
Mark Pribish is Vice-President and ID Theft Practice Leader at Merchants Information Solutions, Inc. He has 25 years' experience in ID Theft, Data Breach Risk Management, Insurance Programs and Affinity Marketing qualifies him as one of the leading ID Theft Risk Management Experts in the United States today. In addition, Mark has helped many businesses, organizations, and consumers prepare for and respond to ID Theft and Data Breach events by writing numerous business and consumer articles and speaking to a wide range of industry groups and business executives. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.