CHARLESTON - Attorney General Patrick Morrisey warned consumers to be cautious if they are filing their taxes at the last minute or awaiting a tax refund.
Morrisey said in a press release that scammers are looking to steal important financial and personal information from those filing their taxes.
"The April 15 tax day deadline is quickly approaching, and scammers may be looking to take advantage of those who have still not yet filed," Morrisey said. "Consumers who have received or expect to receive a tax refund also must stay alert to protect themselves from identity theft. Scammers have been known to file fraudulent refund claims using another person’s identity, which ends up victimizing innocent citizens."
According to the Internal Revenue Service, stopping identity theft related to refund fraud is one of its top priorities.
The agency said it will send notices to consumers or their tax preparers if the IRS believes the consumers’ identities have been compromised.
The IRS believes consumers should watch for red flags, including more than one tax return was filed in the consumer’s name; the consumer had a balance due, refund offset or had collection actions taken against him or her for a year he or she did not file a tax return; IRS records indicate the person received more wages than he or she actually earned; or the person’s state or federal benefits were reduced or cancelled because the agency received information reporting an income change.
"If you receive a letter from the IRS alerting you to one of these red flags, it is critical for consumers to respond immediately," Morrisey said.
"But also be cautious, the IRS will never call you out of the blue and demand that you make an immediate payment with a pre-paid debit card or money order for taxes you supposedly own. That is a scam going around the nation right now."
Morrisey offered the following tips to consumers to help them avoid becoming a victim of identity theft: shred all documents that have sensitive personal and financial information and are no longer needed; do not give out your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification number to anyone over the phone or via email. Do not carry documents that include those numbers; do not voluntarily surrender your Social Security number or taxpayer ID number to businesses, give it only when required; if you are using online tax services make sure you are using a secure Internet connection that has firewalls and anti-spam/virus software and make sure to update security patches and change your password frequently; do not use the same password for multiple websites; never use obvious passwords such as date of birth or last four digits of your Social Security number when using online service; store all your tax and financial information in one secure place; and check your credit report every 12 months.
"Consumers should always remember to never give personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless they initiated the contact," Morrisey said. "And always validate that you are sure you know who you are talking and dealing with."
If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808 and/or the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 to ensure you are not a part of a tax-related scam.
Additionally, victims of identity theft should file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov or by calling the FTC Identity Theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338 or TTY 1-866-653-4261; file a report with the local police; and contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax at www.equifax.com or 1-800-525-6285, Experian at www.experian.com or 1-888-397-3742 or TransUnion at www.transunion.com or 1-800-680-7289.
Consumer should also close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
"Our office encourages consumers to follow some of these tips and educate themselves on how to protect their information so they can enjoy a less stressful tax season," Morrisey said.