According to the Federal Trade Commission, COVID-19 led to a 225% increase in the number of identity theft complaints from 2019 to 2020, raising the total to 89,390. The FTC also received more than 2.2 million reports of fraud and nearly $3.3 billion in losses in 2020.
“When criminals gain access to your personal information, it opens up a world of trouble, and tax season creates some additional vulnerability,” Jordan said. “It’s especially important to vet tax professionals you are working with and have heightened awareness that scammers will use any means to separate you from your money.”
The Internal Revenue Service reports scammers use mail, telephone or email to deceive individuals, businesses, and payroll and tax professionals. According to the IRS, the bureau does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. The IRS is reminding the public to avoid scams including unethical ghost tax return prepares who do not sign tax returns they prepare, emails or text messages asking for personal and financial information, and imposters who call taxpayers claiming to be IRS employees using fake names and identification badge numbers.
To avoid falling victim to tax-related scams and identity theft, Jordan said to follow these tips provided by the FTC:
Protect Social Security Numbers throughout the year. Do not give it out unless there is a good reason and you are sure of whom you are giving it to;
File tax returns as early in the tax season as possible; Use a secure internet connection if filing electronically or mail tax returns directly from the post office;
Research a tax preparer thoroughly before handing over personal information;
Check credit reports at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com. Make sure no one has opened a new account in your name;
Do not give out sensitive information over the phone. When in doubt, hang up; and never click on or forward links in unsolicited text or email messages.
Jordan said those who believe they are a victim of a scam need to contact local law enforcement immediately. Scams should be reported to the Indiana Attorney General’s office by visiting indianaconsumer.com, and complaints should be filed with Federal Trade commission at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
The federal tax filing deadline this year is April 15.