With the 2015 tax season fast approaching, the Internal Revenue Service is working to warn consumers about potential identity theft scams, as it predicts cases of stolen identities will rise next year. The IRS is plagued with problems concerning identity theft as thieves are more sophisticated in how they take consumers' personal information to submit fake tax returns. Now, the IRS is cautioning consumers that scammers are calling taxpayers, saying they are required to mail their tax returns, Forbes reported.
However, while these calls may sound official and even claim that consumers have been victim of identity thieves during this contact, it was actually part of an elaborate plan to steal this information. These and other similar schemes have made it more difficult for the IRS to determine which tax returns are from legitimate taxpayers and which ones were sent as a result of identity theft.
Criticism Against the IRS
The IRS paid out an estimated $5 billion in fake tax returns in the 2013 tax filing season, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. The report highlighted criticism from lawmakers urging the agency to ramp up efforts to stop identity theft and tax fraud.
"In one case, the IRS received over 2,000 returns from a single address - paying out over $3.3 million in refunds," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in a statement. "That is not just a simple error, that is clear mismanagement. IRS must ensure that all is being done to stop detect fraudulent payments, protect hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and stop the crime of tax fraud."
To lower the risk of fraud affecting taxpayers and the IRS, the GAO recommended that W-2 filing deadlines be moved to Jan. 31, which it argues could help the IRS detect identity theft fraud.
With the prevalence of identity theft scams heading into the 2015 tax filing season, there are some tips taxpayers could follow to protect themselves, including:
- File electronically. The IRS suggests that consumers should file their taxes electronically.
- Lock your mailbox. With employers sending sensitive information like W-2s and other personal documents, consumers could lock their mailboxes to prevent thieves from accessing this mail.
- Avoid unsolicited calls. Calls such as those described above are made to sound legitimate but typically taxpayers will not be asked to reveal their personal in unsolicited calls.
- Call the IRS. The IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit is available for people to contact in case they suspect they've become victims of identity theft.