Identity theft is big business

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The report Monday of an identity theft scheme that has been used to generate $1.1 million in fraudulent federal income tax refunds is a reminder of just how valuable an asset our personal information is and why it is so important to protect it.

According to the U.S. Secret Service, names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of unsuspecting people in our area were used to file bogus income tax returns, resulting in fraudulent refunds. Far from a victimless crime, each of the people whose identities were stolen and every taxpaying citizen in the United States were victims of this thievery.

How thieves get the information is varied. According to the Federal Trade Commission, your personal information is stolen when criminals go through your garbage looking for bills and other documents; swipe your credit/debit card information with a special device while processing your card at a business; send you bogus emails to get you to send them personal information (Did you really think you won that national lottery overseas that you never entered, or that you're such a good person that a dying millionaire on another continent wants to leave you his estate?); hacking your computer or online accounts, and plain, old fashioned stealing — wallets, mail, new checks you ordered, records from employers, etc.

The FTC has some good tips on ways to deter ID theft by safeguarding your personal information. The agency suggests that you:

  • Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them;
  • Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier;
  • Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with. Avoid disclosing personal financial information when using public wireless connections;
  • Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date. If you use Peer-to-Peer file sharing, check the settings to make sure you are not sharing your sensitive private files with other users. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
  • Don't use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number;
  • Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having work done in your house.
  • You should also take an active approach to look for suspicious activity. Monitor your financial accounts and billing statements, and inspect your credit report. The FTC notes that the law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to provide you a free copy of your credit report every 12 months, but you have to ask for it.
  • In this information age, your personal information is your most valuable asset. It pays to be aggressive in protecting it.


agirl_25 3 years, 7 months ago

My son-in-law called me the other morning and told me he tried to file his taxes online and they were rejected. Seems someone used his wife's SSN on their tax return and used her as a dependent. He called the IRS and they told him to file a hard copy with the local office (he lives a big city) and to bring proof that she is in fact the owner of the SSN. They will accept his tax returns and then get in touch with the filers who used her SSN on their return and have them explain why they used her number. Then they will have to pay back the money they got as a refund. In the meantime they told my son-in-law that he will get his refund and not to worry. Now this is from the IRS telling this to my son-in-law to me..I believe this is what they told him and I believe he is truthful in what he is telling me....but....I am rolling on the floor laughing to think that it will go this smoothy..I mean come on.....this is the IRS we are talking about...hahaha. If it happens and they get their refund within a reasonalbe time I will NEVER EVER make fun of the IRS again.


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