BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Tax season is upon us. Despite the government shutdown, the IRS says it will have staffers processing returns. But the new tax law could open the door for more identity theft fraud cases.
The average tax refund last year was over $2,800. Morgan Stanley estimates refunds could be 26 percent higher this year due to changes in the tax code. That also means scammers could be out to find more victims.
"Really keep an eye on your financial accounts. Having your social security number and that other identifying data that they would need to file that false tax return means they can very likely open new lines of credit in your name,” Eva Velasquez, President and C.E.O. of the Identity Theft Resource Center said.
We’re told the change in the tax law is currently complicated by the government shutdown. The IRS is working with reduced staffing and have fewer call takers to answer questions. Also a number of government websites aren’t working including the FTC’s “Identitytheft.gov” which allows people to file ID theft forms electronically. That’s where the Identity Theft Resource Center comes in. That organization which works closely with the IRS and FTC is up and running.
"Right now even though they’re not available, we can provide some level of that assistance. We can help you get everything lined up in a row ready to go for when those agencies reopen, and you can start interacting with them again,” Velasquez said.
Scammers can sell stolen security numbers for cheap on the dark web. Experts say they can be purchased in bulk for as little as ten cents. With that rate of return on investment, you can see why identity thieves would try and file as many fraudulent tax returns as possible. Due to that threat, experts say it’s best to file your taxes early if you can. If you become a victim, it can be challenging to try and get your identity back.
"It can even affect people’s ability to get employment or to rent an apartment or to get a loan that’s a legitimate loan. Maybe they are looking to buy a car or buying their first home. So it can have all of these downstream effects that we really don’t think about and unfortunately they can be very long term,” Velasquez said.
You can find more resources from the Identity Theft Resource Center here: https://www.idtheftcenter.org/
The IRS will start processing tax returns on Jan. 28. You can file your taxes for free and check your refund status here: https://www.irs.gov/