It's almost time to file your 2012 taxes. That means it’s also time for con artists to get to work trying to steal your refund.
The local Better Business Bureau says tax identity theft fraud is one of the fast-growing areas of identity fraud in the United States.
The IRS Oversight Board says 460,000 Americans have been victimized since 2008.
Filing electronically is free, easy, and the IRS is quick to point out it's also safe. Metro Detroiters told Ruth to the Rescue they feel pretty confident filing online.
"I've been doing it electronically for years, never had a problem with them," said John Channel of Troy.
Maya Johnson of Hartland also feels pretty good about it.
"I'm comfortable filing electronically," she said.
However, that method of filing has also allowed crooks to steal Social Security numbers and file false returns.
Moment of Panic!
How do you know when you've been a victim of identity theft fraud? The moment of panic comes when you're about to file you're taxes.
"Generally it comes when you go, and you think you're finished, and you hit the send button and the IRS comes back and says 'I'm sorry, you've already filed!" said Melanie Duquesnel, CEO of the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan.
The IRS urges you to contact the agency as soon as possible if you believe someone has filed a false return using your information.
How To Prevent Fraud
Duquesnel says the best, first line of defense is to file quickly so the thieves don't have a chance to file before you.
"Just make sure that you do that as early as possible, because the quicker you do it, the less likely somebody is going to try to come in, in advance of you," she said.
She also suggests hiring a trustworthy tax preparer so you know they'll keep your private information safe.
Make sure to check up on your account with the BBB and do your research.
Protect Personal Information
The IRS says its crucial to protect your personal information, especially your Social Security number. We found Metro-Detroiters who are already taking precautions.
The IRS says you can minimize the chances of becoming a victim if you follow the steps below:
- Don't carry your Social Security card or any documents with your SS# on them.
- Be very, very cautious about giving your Social Security number to any business unless absolutely necessary.
- Check your credit report every 12 months.
- Secure personal information in your home.
- Protect the personal information in your computer by using firewalls, anti-spam, anti-virus software, and change passwords for internet accounts.
- Never give personal information over the phone, via email, or through the traditional mail, unless you have initiated the contact and are dealing
- with an organization you know is trustworthy and legitimate.