Phishing, vishing and unscrupulous tax preparers pose a threat

Tax time will unfortunately bring more than a refund check to many taxpayers this year. Affinion Security Center recently conducted a survey of 1,000 adults to determine the level of awareness and concern that exists for tax- and employment-related identity theft. Overall, the findings revealed that taxpayers have a lack of awareness and only moderate levels of concern, leaving them vulnerable and unprotected against these growing threats.

When asked how the IRS contacts taxpayers regarding their tax returns, 53 percent did not respond correctly. 23 percent of those responded that they did not know the ways the IRS contacts taxpayers regarding their tax returns, while 22 percent thought that the IRS could call or email them. Additionally three percent thought the IRS could contact them on the telephone and five percent would not be surprised to receive an email from the IRS.

Because so many respondents did not know that the IRS does not send unsolicited emails or make unsolicited phone calls regarding refunds or filings, they are vulnerable to phishing or vishing (voice phishing using the telephone) scams where thieves pose as IRS agents to gain personal information such as social security or bank account numbers.

The IRS warned taxpayers about several of these scams in 2008. In fact, the recently released annual Fraud and Identity Theft Compliant data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) showed an astounding 85 percent increase over 2007 in complaints related to fraudulent tax refund filings in 2008.

The survey also showed that 1/3 of the respondents who rely on the services of a tax preparer were not at all concerned about the possibility of becoming victims of identity theft when choosing their preparer. An additional 23 percent were somewhat concerned and only 18 percent were very concerned.

Another type of identity theft that often comes to light during tax season is employment-related identity theft which can include someone stealing another person’s social security number in order to obtain employment. The Affinion Security Center survey found that while the majority of those surveyed were at least somewhat concerned, almost 40 percent were not at all concerned that they could become victims of employment-related identity theft. This is a troublesome discovery, as the recent FTC data revealed a 30 percent increase in complaints of employment-related fraud in 2008.

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