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Beaten to the punch: tax ID fraud

Mountain Home, Idaho, has seen a high volume in tax fraud this year. A common form of tax fraud involves thieves using stolen social security numbers to file forged tax returns to get a refund. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessica H. Smith/RELEASED)

Mountain Home, Idaho, has seen a high volume in tax fraud this year. A common form of tax fraud involves thieves using stolen social security numbers to file forged tax returns to get a refund. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessica H. Smith/RELEASED)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Protecting an identity can be difficult, especially given the amount of ways to identify a person. With many things requiring proof of identification - from social security numbers to birthdates - private information can sometimes be compromised.

Mountain Home, Idaho, has had many people - including service members--fall victim to tax fraud this year.

Although this may be something people have little control over, understanding tax fraud can help people make better decisions: whether it's for prevention or dealing with the aftermath of it all.

Simply put - tax fraud is when someone uses another person's SSN to file a tax form.

"They [the scammer] are not filing with all your information, only your social," said Susan Rueger, Airmen and Family Readiness Center director from the 366th Force Support Squadron. "They're filing early so they can create a refund for themselves. Then they'll have that money put on a gift card, or some way that's not traceable."

One may wonder, "How can this happen; why isn't anything being verified?"

"The International Revenue Service is only relying on the numbers: social security numbers, numbers on W2's and all the tax information needed to give you a refund," Rueger said. "In fact, they're not going to verify names with socials until about June or July - so refunds are given before [they're] verified."

The IRS does, however, check to see if the SSN has already been used to file a tax form.

"When you can't file, it's because that SSN has already been used," she said.  That's how people are finding out they're victims of tax fraud.

There are two common ways that allow people to get a hold of a person's SSN: one is local theft and the other is the online black market.

Rueger explained local theft usually involves a commonality, such as a facility containing a list of socials. It could be any place, from a childcare center to a medical or dental facility. A high volume of tax fraud in one location generally points to a commonality.

There is no fool-proof way to prevent tax fraud or identity theft. There are some services that can provide a limited amount of protection: military fraud alerts, credit report freezes and other monitoring services.

"I highly encourage every military member to do this," she said, "It won't eliminate tax fraud but it will eliminate a lot of ID theft. Every military member should take these steps."

There are some day-to-day things to do to lessen the chances of becoming a victim.
She warned people to be cautious of what they carry on them or in a wallet because criminals often obtain information from the combinations of ID being carried.

If a person does become a victim of tax fraud they should report it to the IRS. The IRS will then issue an authorized pin number to go with the victim's social; a service only provided to victims.

The person's SSN will then be flagged with a secure pin number, so the next time they file they will have to enter the pin to prove it's their SSN.

Rest assured, a refund will still be given to the victim, it will just be a slower process.  Rueger said it could take about six months.

Being in the military means having a higher rate of ID theft than civilians due to the high use of socials - a reason for the switch to Department of Defense numbers.

As for recent victims of Mountain Home being mostly military, Rueger said it's demographics.

"It's a small town with lots of military," she said. "This is the new 'stranger danger' ... It's something to pay attention to year-round."

For more information about tax fraud and identity theft visit http://tax.idaho.gov/i-1135.cfm  or call the Idaho State Tax Commission at 208-334-7660.

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