The Internal Revenue Service started accepting returns last Monday. The reason you should consider gathering your information and submitting your return soon comes down to this: last year’s massive data breach involving the Equifax credit reporting agency.
The breach exposed the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers of more than 140 million Americans. The hackers also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people.
All this, of course, created the potential for identity theft on a mass scale. Anyone who has your personal information can use it to file a fake return in your name and collect your tax refund. Worse, defrauded taxpayers often don’t know they’re a victim until the IRS rejects their returns because the thieves have already filed one for them. The point to filing early is that you get your return submitted and processed before someone else can.
Other general reminders regarding the crush of IRS scams that seek to rob taxpayers, particularly at this time of year:
• The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to anyone who owes taxes.
• If you do owe taxes, you will have the chance to question or appeal the amount the agency says you owe.
• The IRS will not threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement to have you arrested for not paying. It also can not revoke your driver’s license, business licenses or immigration status. “Threats like these are common tactics scam artists use to trick victims into buying into their schemes,” the IRS says.
◊ ◊ ◊
If you were a victim of the Equifax breach, the state Attorney General wants to hear from you.
He also wants to hear from you if you have received any correspondence from the company since the breach happened last fall.
“We are working on gathering more information about how Equifax is responding to New Mexicans who were victims of the data breach,” Attorney General Hector Balderas said. “The more documentation we have, the better we can protect our citizens by ensuring that they are being given consistent, legal, and helpful responses by Equifax.”
If you have a new complaint, call the Consumer and Family Advocacy Services Division at 717-3500, extension 5 in Albuquerque; 490-4060, extension 5 in Santa Fe; 575-339-1120, extension 5 in Las Cruces or 1-844-255-9210 toll-free statewide. If you have received correspondence related to a complaint you have already filed with the AG, note that you are sending new information for a complaint already on file.
If you have received any correspondence from Equifax, send copies to the AG electronically to www.nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx or by mail to: P.O. Drawer 1508, Santa Fe, NM, 87504-1508.
◊ ◊ ◊
The last thing you want to do when you’re scammed is to help the perpetrators scam someone else.
That’s the upshot of a new phone scheme that starts when someone calls claiming to be a tech with your phone provider. The company name will, in fact, come up on caller ID because the scammers are using a trick called “Caller ID spoofing” to make their game seem more legitimate, according to Scam Detector.
The caller will say the company is running a test that needs your cooperation. “We’re launching a new feature meant to save you money on your future bills,” or something along those lines is what you’ll be told. Next, you’ll be asked a couple of fake verification questions and then told to press a couple of keys on your keypad. What’s really happening is that doing this forwards your phone number to the scammers’.
This means they can use your phone to turn around and commit any number of bogus plots against others.
So while we know that a call coming from Jamaica or Nigeria is probably not legitimate, a call coming for a local number (yours) is likely to have more success when it comes to conning someone.
Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at email@example.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam.