When most people think of identity theft, they probably think of having their credit card information stolen or an account opened in their names.
In reality, there are many types of identity theft as a result of a stolen Social Security number or someone fraudulently filing for your government disability, your health insurance benefits, and even your tax return.
This year, an astounding phenomenon has taken place and it’s left lawmakers and government officials scratching their heads. An unheard of number of medical professionals—both doctors and dentists—in as many as 18 states have had their tax returns stolen, essentially meaning they filed their returns with the IRS only to have those returns rejected because someone else had already filed using their information. Once the return is filed and paid out, someone has made off with the refund and the individual can no longer file.
While literally hundreds of doctors have fallen victim to this type of theft this year alone, one state is asking the IRS to take action. Indiana has sent a Congressional delegation to work with the IRS in trying to understand what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future.
Random or Targeted?
One of the interesting conflicts in preventing this type of identity theft is that it may be completely random. While it is possible that an organized group of criminals working together has found a way to get the information they need in order to file a large-scale number of fraudulent returns—such as the case last year in Florida in which some 38 people were arrested for filing hundreds of stolen tax claims—it is also just as likely that this is all a coincidence.
There is currently little known about the correlation between the medical profession and these cases of identity theft. However, identity thieves may be specifically targeting doctors and dentists. Savvy identity thieves know that many doctors have hectic schedules. They keep busy with seeing their patients, making their hospital rounds, and difficult surgery schedules, so a good number of professionals rely on accountants to handle their personal and office finances.
If those accountants’ computer systems were hacked, it could be weeks or months before that knowledge actually makes its way down to the doctors, making them ideal victims for this type of crime.
Take Action to Prevent, Recover From ID Breach
According to a 2013 report from the Treasury Inspector General’s office, the IRS issued nearly $4 billion in bogus tax refunds in 2012. What can be done to prevent and recover from tax-related identity fraud?
Unfortunately, tax-refund fraud can be difficult to prevent because you only know you’ve been a victim after the fact. But it must be reported to the IRS as soon as it comes to light!
Consider taking the following security steps as well:
- Investigate all other accounts to see what else the thieves may have accessed (emails, social media, files, chats, photos).
- Request your credit reports from the three reporting agencies in order to determine whether the thieves took more than just your tax refund.
- Secure your passwords and reset with more complex passwords (use upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols). Also, uncheck the box that automatically saves your passwords.
- Disable features that automatically connect your device to any available network (i.e., accidentally connecting to a fake WiFi hotspot or a stranger’s computer).
- Use a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi when conducting any personal or financial details in a WiFi hotspot.
- Click over to the Identity Theft Resource Center for free resources. The ITRC website has a variety of documents on its website that can help victims of identity theft report the issue and recover from it quickly.