It seems like we keep reading the same stories over and over again—thieves have cracked a corporate network and stolen credit card and personal information from thousands of people.
The latest breach comes from of all places, the IRS where thieves stole personal and sensitive information from more than 100,000 people. We hear about its effect all the time at our tax offices in San Diego, Orange County and Beverly Hills. If you haven’t gotten the message yet, perhaps you will now. It’s time to increase your personal vigilance like never before.
The IRS said the thieves managed to access the tax files for 104,000 people and obtained transcripts that included information such as income, past refunds, dependents, mortgages, college loans, employers and more. The IRS said the thieves already had the individuals’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, marital status and address and used other information that only the tax payer should have known to verify the identity.
From there the criminals filed false tax returns to collect on fraudulent refunds.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said this week the thieves used the transcript information to fraudulently collect $50 million in refunds.
In light of the computer break-in and recent hacks at places like Target, here are things that we all need to think about in light of this latest case of data theft: Dealing with tax problems is hard enough. We would rather be working on IRS solutions for you and not be worrying about identity theft. So here are some tips to help protect you.
- The IRS will be sending out letters through the mail (NOT e-mail) to anyone whose identity may have been comprised. Besides the 104,000 whose files were accessed, thieves attempted to hack into about 100,000 more.
If you get one of these letters, follow the instructions completely. If you’re asked to create a PIN for future tax returns, do it. If you’re offered free identity theft monitoring, take it.
2. Watch out for attempts by other bad guys to trick you. Hackers freely trade identity information and chances are very good that as you’re reading this, scammers around the globe are devising authentic-looking emails and phone scripts, so they can pose as the IRS and email you and call you.
Note that the IRS will only contact people about this breach through U.S. mail, said IRS spokeswoman Jennifer Jenkins. It will not send emails. It will not make phone calls.
If you get an email that says it’s from the IRS, do not click on any links in the email. Period. Just delete it.
If anyone contacts you by email or phone and say they’re from the IRS, HANG UP immediately. Do not ever provide any personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, bank account information, etc. If you’re worried about whether someone contacting you is legitimate, call the IRS at 800-829-1040.
It’s important to remember that stores, banks and investigators will never contact you out of the blue and ask for personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords, etc. If you receive an e-mail requesting information, do not click on links or reply with any information.
3. Make sure all of your passwords on all of your accounts, especially your personal email, aren’t easily guessable and they do not include something like your birth year, you middle name or something like your pet’s name. If someone hacks into your email, they can use that to change passwords on a number of financial accounts.
4. Be cautious about anything you post on social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and never post anything personal on social media—including travel plans that might indicate when your house could be empty.
People inadvertently breach their own security all the time. You’d be surprised how many people post pictures of their pets online and then use the pet’s name as their passwords or security questions for bank accounts.
And remember that even if your social media accounts are accessible only to friends or family, the information is still on some company’s database and can be accessed or sold.
5. Make it so your data has no value because it can’t be used.
Paying for identity theft protection and/ or a credit freeze “are two layers that can definitely help,” said Robert Siciliano, an online safety expert with Intel Security in Boston.
Identity theft protection can alert you to any use of your Social Security number. A freeze on your credit file will prevent anyone from opening a new account in your name. But it won’t protect you from fraud on any existing account.
It’s important to realize that more than a billion records have already been compromised in recent years from various data breaches so you need to strongly consider the possibility that a thief already has your data. “The horse is out of the barn as they say,” Siciliano said. You need a two-pronged attack—keep your data as safe as possible but also make your data useless if somebody does get ahold of it or at the very least, make it unattractive to anybody trying to use it.
6. Watch out for anything odd with your name on it– a medical explanation of benefits for a service you didn’t have or from a provider you don’t recognize, rejection letters for accounts you didn’t apply for and missing credit card statements could all be signs that lead to identity theft.
In Part two of our series, we’ll offer more ways to protect yourself against identity theft.
RJS LAW, Southern California’s finest tax law firm, specializes in all areas of civil tax controversy and criminal tax defense. Founded by CEO and principal attorney Ronson J. Shamoun in 2003, We opened our Beverly Hills office in 2013 to better serve all our clients in the Los Angeles area and have also expanded our services into Orange County and we are glad to be a part of those community as well. If you or someone you know ever needs a dedicated team of tax attorneys who will solve your tax problems with compassion, RJS LAW is the firm for you.
we vigorously protect and fiercely fight for our clients in front of the Internal Revenue Service, Franchise Tax Board, Employment Development Department, and State Board of Equalization.
For more information, or to schedule a free consultation contact or call us today at (619)-595-1655.