Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tax fraud: How to protect yourself

TAMPA (FOX 13) - 
Anthony Meaker knew as soon as he heard it something wasn't quite right.

"It caught me off guard right off because I had a tax problem last year," the Brandon resident said.

"Here's this voicemail that comes up. It's talking about 'contact the IRS immediately' and 'here's the phone number," Meaker said.

Turns out it was a scam. Identity thieves were fishing for Meaker's personal information so they can file bogus tax returns.

"These are traditional types of identity theft scams that you should be wary of," said white collar crime expert and former federal prosecutor, L.T. Lafferty.

But he said that's not the big problem.

These days thieves don't want just one identity, they want hundreds.

"These perpetrators are targeting health care providers, insurance companies, schools, financial institutions, any type of institution that routinely collects this type of information," Lafferty said.

He said the crooks pay someone on the inside, usually employees who are willing to steal social security numbers, addresses and more – everything needed to file boatloads of bogus returns.

"It's very easy," Lafferty said. "Anything from photocopying the paper records that you have to taking cell phone photographs of the personal information that's up on the computer screen."

That's why Lafferty said to keep your personal information to yourself, and that's exactly what Meaker did.
"I'm retired military and, of course, I would like to take my expertise and take care of things," he said. "But my integrity and honesty won't let me do that. All we can do is fight back."

So, what can you do?

First, experts say, don't carry your social security number or any other personal information with you in your wallet or purse.

Don't give out your social security number unnecessarily. Just because someone asks for it doesn't mean they need it, including the bank, your child's school and even the doctor's office.

File early before somebody else files for you.

And in case your return is swiped, you can minimize the harm by cutting the amount of tax withholding from your paycheck.
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