Articles

Protect Your Identify and Reduce The Risk of Fraud During Tax Season by Joseph Saka


Posted on February 20, 2014 by Joseph Saka

Identity theft and tax refund-related fraud are among the fastest-growing crimes nationwide. According to Miami U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer, the incidence of identity-theft in Florida outpaces the rest of the country, with Miami taking the top spot in the state.

Identify theft can have far-reaching consequences, from damaging victims’ credit histories to wiping out hard-earned savings accounts. While most individuals believe that they take appropriate precautious to prevent themselves from becoming victims of these crimes, the fact is that criminals are getting smarter and sneakier in their methods.

With the 2013 tax season underway, now is the ideal time for taxpayers to review their strategies for safeguarding personal information and consider implementing the following precautionary steps, if they are not doing so already.

• Do not carry Social Security cards or any documents or devices that include Social Security numbers or Federal Tax Identification Numbers

• Do not give out Social Security numbers to any businesses, including doctor’s offices and retail stores, unless applying for a credit card or financing

• Do not give personal information to anyone over the phone, through the mail, email or on the Internet unless the taxpayer initiated the contact

• Do not leave mail in mailboxes outside homes. Drop off mail in collection boxes or at a USPS office.

• Do not leave documents containing personal information in the trash. Shred records, including credit card offers, receipts, credit applications, bank statements, medical statements, etc.

• Store personal information securely in homes or in safe-deposit boxes at the bank

• Annually or biannually, order free copies of credit reports from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com

The pervasiveness of technology brings with it various risks and threats to users’ personal information. Practicing safe use of technology requires:

• Protecting computers, mobile phones and tablets with passwords, firewalls, anti-spam and anti-virus software

• Regularly updating computer security patches

• Using password keeper programs or storing digital data in the cloud rather than writing down passwords on paper or maintaining them on desktops

• Using strong passwords that include capital letters, lowercase letters, symbols and numbers

Additionally, the IRS advises taxpayers to be aware of various scams conducted by criminals purporting to be agency officials. For example, identity thieves posing as the IRS often call or email victims requesting personal information under the guise of a potential tax refund or due payment. Taxpayers should note that under no circumstances would the IRS initiate contact with them via email or telephone nor would it ask taxpayers for PINs, passwords or similar confidential information.

As an added layer of protection against tax return-related fraud, the professionals at Berkowitz Pollack Brant advise their clients to consider the following:

• File tax returns electronically

• When available, use your accounting firm’s client portals to share personal records safely and confidentially

• Never pay for accounting services up front

• Never sign a blank tax return

• If identity-theft is suspected, call a tax professional who may help guide you through the process of reporting and resolving

About the author: Joseph L. Saka CPA/PFS is director in charge of the Tax Services practice at Berkowitz Pollack Brant. For more information, call (305) 379-7000 or e-mail info@bpbcpa.com.