St. Peters police are asking for help from residents in combating the kind of tax fraud that a growing number of them may be experiencing this year.
Police Chief Jeff Finkelstein told the city’s Board of Aldermen at their March 12 meeting that residents should notify them if they have experienced tax fraud. Finkelstein said identity theft has been a major concern, particularly the filing of illegal tax returns.
The stealing and use of a person’s social security number or forms of identity can result in the filing a fraudulent tax return to obtain a tax refund.
Finkelstein asked that residents share information with police if they received a letter from the Internal Revenue Service indicating that someone filed a tax return in their name without their permission or if they received a code from the IRS
Residents are asked to file a police report which the city will send to an IRS task force that is investigating the problem, he said.
Finkelstein said the city, like other parts of the county, is not immune to identity theft. So far this year, police have worked 112 cases of tax fraud, including a number involving identify theft and the filing of illicit tax returns.
Identity theft at large
In February, the Federal trade Commission releases data that ranks Missouri as the fourth highest-ranked state in per-capita identity theft complaints to the FTC in 2014. Government benefits, credit card and utilities fraud accounted for the 7,195 identity theft complains received in Missouri. Fifty-five percent of Missouri residents who filed complaints reported a loss. The average amount reported paid was $1,587.
St. Louis also received the distinction of the third highest metropolitan area in the country in per-capita identity theft complaint rates.
The vulnerability of Missouri consumers to fraud, and particularly identity theft, is exacerbated by the ongoing problem of data breaches.
According to Javelin Strategy & Research, nearly 1 in 3 data breach victims will also experience identity fraud. As information on tens of millions of consumers affected by breaches at companies like Target, Home Depot and Anthem continue to fall in to the hands of cybercriminals, it is likely that millions more will suffer from this scam.
“Data breaches regularly expose sensitive personal information about millions of Missouri consumers on cybercrime black markets,” said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy Telecommunications and Fraud at the National Consumers League. “Without reforms in Washington to better protect consumers’ data, high identity theft rates could become the ‘new normal,’ for consumers in Missouri and around the country.”
While there is no foolproof way for consumers to protect themselves from identity theft, there are steps they can take that will reduce their risk. Tips to protect against identity theft, consumers are urged to:
• Resist clicking on suspicious links or attachments in emails, text messages or on the Web. These often contain malware that can hijack your computer and steal sensitive personal information like Social Security Numbers, usernames, passwords and dates of birth.
• File your taxes early in the tax season. The FTC identified tax-related identity theft as a top source of identity theft complaints. Scammers file in someone else’s name early in tax season and collect fraudulent returns before the legitimate taxpayer has filed her return. NCL has published a step-by-step guide to spotting and recovering from this fraud.
• Create strong and unique passwords using a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid using common words or names in your password and don’t use the same password across multiple websites. Take advantage of stronger security technology, like multi-factor authentication, particularly on sensitive accounts like email addresses.
• Review your credit reports regularly and report any suspicious activity promptly. Consumers can obtain a copy of their credit reports from all three credit reporting bureaus for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.