23 July 2019

IRS Seeks Taxpayer Help Battling Tax Refund Fraud

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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 their websites.

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 numbers.

Click here to access the full article on USA Today.

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