IRS, state tax officials and tax industry representatives
Thursday urged U.S. taxpayers to join the battle against thieves who steal
personal information and use the data to file phony tax returns that
produce hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds. They said the
public-private effort against refund fraud launched this year by the IRS,
state tax commissioners and the tax-preparation industry can't stop refund
fraud without help.
Identity thieves, in some cases part of sophisticated crime
organizations, obtain Social Security numbers and other personal data
through computer hacking and other crimes. They then use the stolen
identities of legitimate taxpayers to file tax returns collect refunds. To
help fight the thefts, the federal and state and tax industry officials
urged taxpayers to:
- Use computer security software that includes an
electronic firewall, virus protection and file encryption.
- Safeguard personal information by checking on
anyone who asks for the data.
- Give personal information online only through
encrypted websites — look for "https" addresses.
- Use strong computer passwords and protect them.
- Avoid phishing emails, texts or calls that
appear to come from the IRS or known companies. Instead, go directly to
Alabama Tax Commissioner Julie Magee demonstrated the
enormity of the identity-fraud threat during a Washington, D.C. news
conference Thursday. She replayed a cell phone message she received from
thieves who warned the IRS had filed a lawsuit against her and urged her to
call a toll-free number for purported assistance.
The call for heightened public awareness and
aid represents the latest effort to halt a continuing surge in tax-refund
fraud. Recent crimes include an embarrassing breach in which cyber-thieves
stole as much as $39 million in federal refunds based on taxpayer
information hacked from an IRS website.
In October, the IRS, state tax authorities and the tax
industry officials announced plans to share more than 20 new data elements on
next year's tax returns in an effort to reduce fraudulent refunds. The
measures include reviewing the transmission of electronically-filed tax
returns, including any improper or repetitive use of Internet Protocol
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