With the 2014 tax filing season underway, millions of Floridians have begun sorting through bank statements, receipts and W-2 forms to prepare this year's filings for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
As the April 15 deadline approaches, so does the ideal time for identity thieves to steal taxpayers' information from personal documents. With just three basic pieces of information a name, a date of birth and a Social Security number identity thieves can file false forms and collect fraudulent refunds from the IRS, holding up your refund and putting you at risk of other types of fraud. It's as easy as going through trash cans and dumpsters or misusing the name of a legitimate business to trick you into revealing personal information.
In 2012, the Treasury Department reported more than 1.2 million cases of tax identity theft, and according to the Federal Trade Commission, Florida was ranked first in the nation for identity theft, with 69,795 reported complaints. The highest rate of complaints came from Miami, where there were 645 complaints of identity theft per 100,000 residents.
For example, Sally, a resident of Palm Beach County and single mother of three children, was the victim of identity theft on her 2011 tax return, holding up her $2,778 refund. After dealing with the IRS alone for over a year, she was lost in the system.
Carlos, a resident of Flagler County and military serviceman stationed in Hawaii, realized he was a victim after finding out someone had filed a fraudulent tax return under his Social Security Number in 2012. Meanwhile, his wife and two children back home had been desperately counting on his $5,000 tax refund.
Fortunately, after contacting my office, my staff was able to help both Sally and Carlos resolve their cases through the Taxpayer Advocate Service. We've also helped hundreds more.
While fraudsters have traditionally targeted Florida's senior citizens, victims can come from any walk of life. All taxpayers need to be aware of their vulnerabilities and the things they can do to protect their identities and avoid fraud this time of year.
Steps as simple as safely disposing of personal information and securing your Social Security Number can go a long way in protecting your identity. You should also never respond to messages asking for personal or financial information.
It's also important to look for the following red flags that your identity may have been stolen: mistakes on your bank, credit card or other account statements; late statements and bills; bills or collection notices for products or services you never received; or a notice form the IRS that someone used your Social Security number.
I encourage you to learn more about identity theft and how to protect your personal information onwww.consumer.ftc.gov.
If your identity is stolen, you should immediately flag your credit reports by calling one of the national credit reporting companies like Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Next, order your credit reports and create an identity theft report by filing a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint or 1-877-438-4338; TTY: 1-866-653-4261.
Florida constituents can also order publications online or contact my Orlando Regional office toll-free at (866) 630-7106 to request information or get assistance if you or someone you know has been the victim of identity theft.
Unfortunately, my staff and I are all too aware of how common this problem is, especially in Florida. And we know how even a short delay in getting a tax refund can set off a chain of events that makes daily life even tougher. For Floridians who find themselves victims of identity theft during tax season, my office stands ready to serve you.