I recently had the privilege of speaking at the North Eastern States Tax Officials Association’s annual conference about how fraud is perpetrated against government programs.  One of the benefits of speaking at conferences like these is the opportunity to hear first-hand about new fraud techniques and scams that government officials are seeing each day.  That’s where I heard about today’s Fraud of the Day – an identity theft scam, which was recently highlighted in a heraldonline.com article.

The article reports exactly what I heard at the conference:  fraudsters are stealing victims’ identities by creating bogus Websites that look like part of the official Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Website.  (Can I get better deductions at this site?)  The “pseudo site pretends to be the IRS eServices online registration page.”  (If I get an SSN for the dog, does he count as a dependent?)  According to an IRS spokesman, “the phony Web page looks almost identical to the real one.”  Unfortunately, he noted that the IRS gets “many reports” of phony Websites.

So, how can the average citizen looking for information from the IRS online avoid getting sucked into an identity theft scam?  The article offers some good advice:  first, remember the official IRS Website address:  www.irs.gov.  If the site ends in .com, .net or .org, it’s a scam.  Also, keep in mind that “the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information.”  If you receive an email or a text from the IRS, it’s also a scam.

It is critical that citizens guard their personal information, especially now, since tax return season is right around the corner.  Fraudsters who steal personally identifiable information (PII) can use it to file for government benefits and to file for your tax refund before you have a chance to do so.

Now that we know what citizens need to watch out for, how can the government help?  The IRS asks anyone who sees a fake IRS Website or receives an unsolicited email from someone pretending to be the IRS to let them know at phishing@IRS.gov.

But, that’s just the beginning.  The IRS and state government revenue agencies (don’t think this is just a federal problem) need to leverage public records and data analytics technology to find fraudsters.  You see, fraudsters are using stolen or bogus identities to commit fraud, so that’s where the government needs to start combating it – at the beginning with the identity.  Identity management tools exist that can authenticate the true identity of the individual requesting the refund or benefit and verify whether he or she is, in fact, the real individual or a potential fraudster.

If we don’t start tackling the identity part of the identity theft problem, these phishing scammers are going to continue to reel in more taxpayer dollars…

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