The horrible epidemic of identity theft is running rampant in the US. Experienced hackers make their way into a database and quickly steal your information. Everyone from small doctor’s offices to large corporations like Target and Home Depot have been hacked. Well, these “hackers” have made headlines again. This time, they broke into the IRS’ website to obtain taxpayers transcripts. This most recent occurrence is estimated to have impacted 100,000 taxpayers and their private data.
Incidents like this are starting to cause many Americans to finally become aware of how important it is to protect your private data and to look out for the traps of these thieves. It is sad that it takes such large scale offenses to bring about a consciousness of this modern day threat. However, I am thankful that it is now on most citizens radars. To help shed light to this very serious topic our local news team aired a piece, in which I appeared and briefly commented on this type of theft.
It is my hope that people take these dangerous threats seriously, and don’t fail to heed the warning signs, and fall victim to modern day thieves. Hopefully the stragglers will start to see the hazardous implications of phishing, scamming, and information theft before it is too late.
Information theft is becoming more prevalent as these hackers get smarter but the websites and applications find themselves staggering to keep up with the newest security measures. These sophisticated criminals were able to log into the “secure” IRS website and obtain taxpayers wage and income transcripts. This provided the thieves with income information to file fraudulent returns. It is estimated that $5.8 billion in fraudulent returns have been issued to these identity thieves since 2013. This year the agency’s preliminary estimate for fraudulently claimed refund is already estimated to be around $50 million!
The IRS claims that with its minor advancements of filtering their software, that they were able to successfully intercept 3 million “suspicious returns”. This is a start but barely a drop in the bucket compared to the large scale of fraud continuing to occur. The inability of the IRS to keep up with growing security threats is inexcusable. The vulnerability of the transcript website has yet to change and the only answer was a temporary system shut down. After many warnings, the IRS still fails to protect taxpayers and their information. What needs to happen to make them take appropriate measures to counteract these break-ins?
These crimes are very real and extremely serious. The information that has already been compromised could come back to haunt these tax payers for many years to come. The very personal nature of this theft leaves the victims wide open for additional scams and fraudulent acts. Some sources have reported that these breaches could have possible links to organized crime, noting that up to 80% of all identity theft could have links to mafia connections.
This robbery is another reminder to taxpayers how important your security is our world today. If you have been a victim of identity theft, once easy activities have now become complicated, time consuming, frustrating, and ineffective. The victims of identity theft and tax fraud have trouble filing returns, applying for credit and a number of ramifications that are emotionally and financially crippling.
The bottom line
The IRS has been warned and they will continue to try to keep up with criminal’s cunning attempts to breach security. Most often they only catch the most inexperienced of thieves. The very basic measures being taken to protect taxpayers barely make a dent, especially when it comes to seasoned internet criminals.
So you must do your part to protect your personal information. These thieves are very smart, once they get key facts about you, they are able to hack systems and gain a limitless world of knowledge. If you take the initial steps to protect yourself, you can limit your chances of being a target.
Tips you can follow to minimize your risk of theft.
- Never leave your belongings unattended in public areas.
- Never provide personal information over the phone or internet unless you initiated to conversation.
- If you find a source that can be trusted with your personal information, ask how your personal information will be used.
- When signing into familiar websites, do not disregard pop-ups warning of expired certificates.
- Be very careful about posting your birthday and other private information in public forums like Facebook.
- Always shred documents that list your name, social security number, date of birth, address, phone number, driver’s license.
- Always dispose of private information with reputable companies.
- Never leave your trash outside overnight.
- Do not advertise that you are on vacation on public websites.
- Report immediately theft of your wallet or personal items.
- Review your credit report as often as possible.
- If you fail to receive one or more of your regular monthly bills in a timely manner alert the creditor. You may want to also inquire about paperless billing.
- Have strong passwords in place to protect your financial accounts.
- Always keep your antivirus software up to date.
- Tell your children never to give out their address, telephone number, password, school name or any other personal information.
- Never carry your social security card in your wallet or purse.
- Shield the entry of your pin number when punching it in at an ATM.