The Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice teamed up for a coast-to-coast crackdown on identity thieves this week.
The coast-to-coast law enforcement onslaught arrested 105 people in 23 states and included indictments, arrests and the execution of search warrants involving the potential theft of thousands of identities and taxpayer refunds, the IRS stated. In all, 939 criminal charges are included in the 69 indictments and information related to identity theft.
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The IRS said auditors also conducted compliance visits to money service businesses in nine locations across the country in the past week. The approximately 150 visits occurred to help ensure these check-cashing facilities aren't facilitating refund fraud and identity theft, the IRS stated.
The IRS also is taking a number of additional steps this tax season to prevent identity theft and detect refund fraud before it occurs. These efforts include designing new identity theft screening filters that will improve the IRS's ability to spot false returns before they are processed and before a refund is issued, as well as expanded efforts to place identity theft indicators on taxpayer accounts to track and manage identity theft incidents, the agency stated.
The IRS earlier this month created a special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and a special guide to assistance. The information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit and tips to protect against phishing schemes that can lead to identity theft.
The IRS is instrumental in fighting identity theft. A 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office stated that in 2010, the IRS identified more than 245,000 identity theft incidents that affected the tax system. The hundreds of thousands of taxpayers with tax problems caused by identity theft represent a small percentage of the expected 140 million individual returns filed, but for those affected, the problems can be quite serious.
"The IRS provides taxpayers with targeted information to increase their awareness of identity theft, tips and suggestions for safeguarding taxpayers' personal information, and information to help them better understand tax administration issues related to identity theft," the GAO states.
Included in the GAO report was IRS' top 10 list of identity theft information everyone should be aware of. The list:
1. The IRS does not initiate contact with a taxpayer by email.
2. If you receive a scam email claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to the IRS at email@example.com.
3. Identity thieves get your personal information by many different means, including:
● stealing your wallet or purse;
● posing as someone who needs information about you through a phone call or email;
● looking through your trash for personal information;
● accessing information you provide to an unsecured Internet site.
4. If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS but does not begin with "www.irs.gov," forward that link to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. To learn how to identify a secure website, visit the Federal Trade Commission at www.onguardonline.gov/tools/recognize-secure-site-using-ssl.aspx.
6. If your Social Security number is stolen, another individual may use it to get a job. That person's employer may then report income earned to the IRS using your Social Security number, thus making it appear that you did not report all of your income on your tax return.
7. Your identity may have been stolen if a letter from the IRS indicates more than one tax return was filed for you or the letter states you received wages from an employer you don't know. If you receive such a letter from the IRS, leading you to believe your identity has been stolen, respond immediately to the name, address or phone number on the IRS notice.
8. If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, you need to provide the IRS with proof of your identity. You should submit a copy of your valid government-issued identification -- such as a Social Security card, driver's license or passport -- along with a copy of a police report and/or a completed Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. As an option, you can also contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free at 800-908-4490. You should also follow FTC guidance for reporting identity theft at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
9. Show your Social Security card to your employer when you start a job or to your financial institution for tax reporting purposes. Do not routinely carry your card or other documents that display your Social Security number.
10. For more information about identity theft -- including information about how to report identity theft, phishing and related fraudulent activity -- visit the IRS Identity Theft and Your Tax Records Page, which you can find by searching "Identity Theft" on the IRS.gov home page.
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