399,225 people filed identity theft claims to the FTC in 2016. Of these, 34 percent (135,737) were complaints about work and tax-related fraud. Scammers glean social security numbers and use them to file fake tax returns, sign up for early social security payments, and even claim other people’s children as dependents.
Other scammers pose as IRS agents, calling up people and demanding immediate payment for supposed balances. In total, the IRS received 117,943 complaints regarding IRS imposters last year, a 22 percent increase over 2015 and a 125 percent increase from 2014.
Many of these identity theft scenarios started when companies incurred data breaches as a result of lax cybersecurity measures. Personal information from employees, customers, clients, patients, vendors, and contractors can be stolen during these breaches. To help companies protect the personal information of their employees and others, the IRS has conducted a Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week event filled with free webinars and Twitter chats designed to raise awareness and promote safe data protection practices.
Although many of the classes and chats have since passed, they will all be archived as a future resource for small business owners and others concerned about identity theft. Make sure to review the materials to hear constructive tips on ways to safeguard your data, but also make sure to receive cybersecurity consulting so that your systems always make use of the latest technology and best practices. Just one breach is all it takes to expose hundreds or thousands of people’s most sensitive information.
Identity Theft Cases Down, But Still Prevalent
While the number of overall identity theft cases is still alarming, the IRS made sure to highlight how that number has been dropping in recent years. 490,220 identity theft complaints we filed to the FTC in 2015, making the 2016 numbers a 19 percent overall reduction in the number of cases. The proportion of complaints concerning tax documents, wages, or employment-related data also fell from 45 percent in 2015 to 34 percent last year.
Police working in coordination with the U.S. also put a dent in fraud attempts last October when they raided several calls centers in India. All of the centers were under investigation by the Justice Department for their role in placing 1.8 million calls to U.S. residents as part of IRS imposter scams and similar scams. Total IRS imposter complaint volume dropped from 117,943 in September before the raids to 761 in December, a staggering 96 percent reduction.
The IRS and others were quick to assert that the reduction does not mean that identity thieves are on the run, but that they are more likely laying low for the time being. The IRS advises everyone to “stay vigilant” because a single incident or mistake can lead to lasting consequences.
Protecting Yourself and Your Company From ID Thieves with IRS Tips and Cybersecurity Consulting
The IRS recommends that individuals engage in the following practices to reduce their risk of having their personal information stolen:
- File tax returns as soon as you can
- Use only secure internet connections when filing electronically; never do so from a public WiFi network
- Consider mailing tax return documents directly to the IRS instead of filing electronically
- Remember that the IRS will never contact you through social media, text or email. They always correspond through the U.S. Postal Service
- Check your credit report periodically using sites like annualcreditreport.com to monitor for suspicious activities and unauthorized accounts
Companies should also ensure that their networking and data storage practices can make use of the latest safety protocols and technology. You can review your company’s resistance to ID thieves through cybersecurity consulting and managed services by booking an appointment with U.S. Computer Connection today.