Last week, a Beech Island woman tried to file her 2013 taxes but was advised by the Internal Revenue Service that her taxes had already been filed. Someone using her information had already filed taxes for 2013, according to a report by the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.
The woman told officers she was unsure who used her information or if they were able to obtain any money and that she wanted a report done for documentation.
It’s difficult to flip through the binder of incident reports in the Sheriff’s Office each week and not come across a report of identity theft or financial transaction card fraud.
While card fraud occurs more frequently, the filing of false tax returns is a form of identity theft that is on the rise, according to Investigator Viktoria Lagger of the Sheriff’s Office.
“Card fraud is basically a credit card number compromised, where they don’t have your identifying information. All they have is your credit card number,” Lagger said. “Identity theft involves the compromise of your entire identity, whether it’s certain specific identifiers like your Social Security number, where they’re actually impersonating you as an individual, and that can be in order to obtain credit.”
Lagger said card fraud is commonly committed by hackers.
“They access credit card processing database or points of sale where you have individuals involved in skimming and recording information like card numbers,” she said. “That happens more frequently as opposed to identity theft.”
Finding out how a person’s card is compromised is often the most difficult part of investigating fraud, Lagger said, and investigators normally don’t find out how it happened.
“With the way we use any kind of banking account information these days, whether you pay your bills online, you’re paying your utilities – everything is out there,” Lagger said.
You can also file your taxes online.
Last October, the S.C. Department of Revenue learned that it was the victim of a cyber attack during which a hacker infiltrated the department’s computers and stole the personal information of millions of state taxpayers.
The state is now offering multiple services to affected taxpayers at no cost, including a free copy of your Experian credit report; credit monitoring that alerts you of suspicious activity, including new inquiries, newly opened accounts, delinquencies or medical collections found on your credit reports; identity theft resolution, which provides identity theft victims an agent to walk them through the fraud resolution process; $1 million identity theft insurance; and a family protection plan that covers all minors and dependents over the age of 18.
The department is alerting affected taxpayers by phone or email, and anyone wishing to enroll in the services needs to do so by March 31.
According to the IRS, if someone uses your information to file a tax return, when you file your own return, the IRS will not accept it and will notify you that a return was already filed using your name and Social Security number.
The IRS urges people to act quickly and use the contact information provided in the notice to begin to correct and secure your tax account.
Lagger said people usually realize they’re a victim of identity theft when they start receiving calls or notices from debt collectors for accounts they haven’t opened.
“They have their credit checked because they’re trying to get credit or make a large purchase, and they have account information on there that’s impacting their credit, then they realize these aren’t their accounts,” she said, adding that “prevention is virtually impossible anymore.”
“With identity theft, the best medicine is to keep on top of your credit report and check out the inquires,” she said. “If there are inquiries made by merchants that you haven’t requested credit or don’t have accounts with, that’s a red flag. If there are addresses or names or identity information associated with your credit persona that isn’t yours, then it’s something that you need to address because there’s a problem.”
The Federal Trade Commission directs users on its webpage to AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free report of their credit from each of the three consumer reporting companies.
Cleaning up after an identity thief can take years.
“It can be a nightmare,” Lagger said. “They can go around and open credit accounts all over the place, and then you have to clean it up. You have to go and fix it.”
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the first thing you should do is file a report with your local law enforcement agency, which then follow up on the report, Lagger said.
“If they just want to clear up their credit report and it’s not theirs, they may be able accomplish that by disputing it with the credit reporting bureaus,” she said. “If it’s something different than that and they want to pursue it, the merchant may require they file a report with local law enforcement, and then it’s our ballpark to pursue and see if it’s something we can reasonable identify a suspect with.”
Lagger said catching and prosecuting a suspect depends on many factors, including the type of fraud and the tactics employed by a suspect.
“You have compromises where individuals have come in contact with friends, relatives or others who have just taken advantage of an opportunity to access their information and record it,” she said. “Or, if it’s a compromise like through a credit card processor, chances are it’s going to come from some major metropolitan center somewhere or outside the United States. A lot of that stuff comes from outside the United States.”
In addition to staying on top of your credit reports and bank statements, another way to prevent identity theft is to freeze your credit if you’re not using it, “which is great because that means nobody can open new accounts in your identity while it’s frozen,” Lagger said.
She reiterated that “the trend anymore is not prevention.”
“I think ‘prevention’ is the wrong word to use, because there isn’t a whole lot you can do to completely prevent any kind of fraud,” she said. “It’s just limiting your victimization. That’s the reality of it.”
For more information on how to spot and react to identity theft, visit the “Tax Tips for 2013” page at www.irs.gov, or the S.C. Department of Revenue’s homepage at www.sctax.org.