Avoid Tax Identity Refund Fraud Now Before Tax Season Filing Begins
Yesterday began National Tax Security Awareness Week, a week sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and dedicated to bringing increased awareness and understanding to the issues of tax security and fraud.
Tax identity thieves steal billions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury every year by filing fraudulent returns and stealing unwitting tax filers’ refunds. With the tax filing season just around the corner the upcoming season will likely bring another wave of breaches.
For the criminally-minded, stealing someone’s identity and tax refund can be as simple as getting a taxpayer’s name, birthdate and Social Security number. After all, names, birthdates and Social Security numbers are how the IRS checks the identity of most taxpayers. Because the IRS accepts tax returns starting in January and many taxpayers don’t file until April, thieves have plenty of time to fill out a fake tax return using the victim’s personal information and obtain a refund. The results can be devastating for victims, resulting in headaches and hassles, mounds of paperwork, time spent on the phone with the IRS and delayed tax refunds. In fact, according to the IRS, refund delays take an average 180 days to resolve.
So where does that leave taxpayers? There are proactive steps taxpayers can take now to protect their personal security and tax identity before their identity is stolen – and before thieves can file a fraudulent return.
One such service designed to prevent and monitor taxpayers’ identities is H&R Block’s Tax Identity Shield; an exclusive service offered to clients that is designed to prevent and monitor clients’ identities and, should theft occur, assist tax filers with recovering their identities.
More specifically, Tax Identity Shield is an annual membership for H&R Block clients that provides:
- Proactive defense against tax identity theft including:
- help to obtain identity theft protection such as an IP PIN, an important first step in identity theft prevention
- notification if one’s information is detected on a tax return filed through H&R Block
- a tax identity theft risk assessment to determine if one’s information may be at risk and the steps to take to help reduce that risk
- one-time access to the primary account holder’s Equifax credit score and credit report to see if any fraudulent activity has occurred on their credit account previously (feel free to reword that, but it’s a good thought to add to explain why this feature is valuable against tax identity theft)
- Restoration assistance to help restore one’s tax identity if necessary as well as information on the latest scams and threats.
To sign up to become a member of Tax Identity Shield one first must be an H&R Block client. Then simply go into one of H&R Block’s 11,000 retail offices and a tax professional can assist one in joining.
“There is no fool-proof way to stop identity theft, says Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block. “It takes vigilance and action on the part of consumers. The good news is that the number of new reports of identity theft by individuals who filed 2015 federal tax returns has fallen by more than 50 percent thanks to the IRS and the tax industry partnering to combat tax fraud. And, programs like H&R Block’s Tax Identity Shield make it very difficult for thieves to steal taxpayers’ identities.”
As long as identity theft is an issue tax identity theft will be an outcome. By being vigilant and taking necessary steps, consumers can protect their identities and save their valuable time.
By Tom Schad
Vivian Greene once said “Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...It's about learning to dance in the rain.”
This is Tom Schad’s philosophy when it comes to understanding the role of taxes in American life. Tax laws may change but they are not going away, so one might as well learn to ‘dance’ with them through greater understanding of the laws and of the many products and serves available to the average taxpayer to help protect them.
Schad graduated from the University of Kansas’ William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications where he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with majors in public relations and magazine. He came to H&R Block in 2003 and has served in many communications roles throughout his career at the company.