FTC and IRS agents provide advice on simple steps individuals can take to reduce possibility of ID theft.
By Kevork KURDOGHLIAN
The Federal Trade Commission in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service held an informational meeting on tax identity theft on Jan. 15 at the Sparr Heights Community Center.
Adrian Yepez, an IRS special agent, presented the criminal aspect of tax identity theft while Christina Tuson, an attorney at the FTC, shared the civil side with the crowd of community members.
Tuson reported that the FTC has seen a rise in identity theft over the past three years to the point where tax identity theft takes place every three seconds in the United States.
“Identity theft,” according to the FTC, “happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission.”
Some of the ways thieves might obtain their victim’s personal information is by going through trash cans that may contain bills with sensitive information or pretending to offer a job, loan, or apartment that asks for personal information to qualify, or by stealing a wallet, purse, backpack or mail.
The best protection includes shredding documents that contain sensitive information before throwing them out, not answering messages that ask for personal information, not using the same password for multiple accounts, shopping online on secure websites, and not sending information to websites that aren’t fully encrypted on a public wireless network.
According to FTC data, California ranks third in most identity theft cases in the U.S., behind number two, Georgia, and number one, Florida. Tuson added that 46% of the time thieves use a stolen identity to receive government benefits.
Agent Yepez noted that most people “discover that they are victims when they file their tax return and it is rejected.” If this happens, he advised that victims file an IRS affidavit, form 14039, which provides victims with a PIN to file a tax return.
Yepez also encouraged victims to notify their bank, the FTC, the credit bureaus, the IRS, and local law enforcement of the breach – all in the same day if possible.
When this data is collected, it is entered into an IRS database that helps about 1,000 IRS agents nationwide find trends and schemes. This makes it simpler for agents like Perez, who have noticed that most of his cases involve a ring of thieves.
“Within one investigation there’s about 20 individuals,” said Yepez.
When a member of the audience noted that 1,000 agents seemed like a small force for the entirety of the U.S., Agent Yepez replied, “We look for the biggest cases that will have the most impact.”