Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald and Director of Consumer Affairs Cindy Sich today kicked off the Fighting Tax Predators initiative to provide constituents with the resources they need to identify and report suspected tax scams.
“Unfortunately, each tax season brings along new cases of people trying to manipulate the system for their own personal profit,” said FitzGerald. “It’s critical that we make sure Cuyahoga County residents are able to identify possible tax scams, protect their own personal information, and notify the proper authorities.”
Last year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reported that the IRS paid out $3.6 billion in fraudulent tax returns to identity thieves. A single address in Bulgaria was listed on more than 700 tax returns and reportedly received $490,000 from the federal government.
As part of his ongoing effort to provide quality, effective services for constituents, FitzGerald launched the Fighting Tax Predators initiative to protect Cuyahoga County residents from becoming victims. By visiting www.cuyahogacounty.us/StopTaxScams, Internet users can learn more information about potential scams.
In addition, constituents are encouraged to call the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs at (216) 443-7010 to report possible fraud or learn more about available resources.
Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs
Five Common Types of Tax Season Scams
Phishing. Phishing scammers may pose as the IRS and send bogus emails, set up phony websites or make phone calls. These contacts usually offer a fictitious refund or threaten an audit or investigation to lure victims into revealing personal information. The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through email or text messages. Unsolicited emails claiming to be from the IRS, or from an IRS-related component such as EFTPS or Treasury, should be reported to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tax Relief Services. Unsolicited emails, letters or commercials promising you huge savings through a qualified government payment plan. Beware as fees are usually high, and due in advance. Consumers pay for services but still ends up owing because the company suddenly disappears or never follows through.
Tax Rebate Scam. Unsolicited calls, emails or text messages from IRS, Social Security or another government agency, and claiming to need some personal information to process your refund check.
Return Preparer Fraud. Tax preparers who falsify income tax returns by claiming inflated personal or business expenses, false deductions, unallowable credits for their for clients. Avoid tax preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds or who base fee on percentage of the amount of refund. Make sure to review your return before you sign it and ask questions. No matter who prepares your tax return, the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for all the information on the tax return.
Government Grants. Telephone rings and the person on the line tells you that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (or a familiar sounding government name) has grants available at $7,000 for up to 1,700 people in our area who have paid their taxes on time. Of course, there is a fee to get the grant from $300 to $500. The person directs the consumers to get a Green Dot-Moneypak card from local store or have you wire the money or seek your account information. It is important to remember: (1) You will not be contacted by the government to offer you a grant (2) There are no fees associated with applying for a government grant (3) All government grants involve an application process (4) Government grants are awarded for explicit opportunities.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also compiled useful tips excerpted below about how to protect your personal information. Cuyahoga County also encourages consumers to visithttp://www.consumer.ftc.gov/ to learn more.
Be Alert to Impersonators: Make sure you know who is getting your personal or financial information. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who youre dealing with. If a company that claims to have an account with you sends email asking for personal information, dont click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service. Or, call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.
Safely Dispose of Personal Information: Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive. Before you dispose of a mobile device, check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete information permanently, and how to save or transfer information to a new device. Remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card from a mobile device. Remove the phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, web search history, and photos.
Encrypt Your Data: Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. A lock icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.
Keep Passwords Private: Use strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank, and other accounts. Be creative: think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, I want to see the Pacific Ocean could become 1W2CtPo.
Don’t Overshare on Social Networking Sites: If you post too much information about yourself, an identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer ‘challenge’ questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information. Consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites.
Use Security Software: Install anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your preference to update these protections often. Protect against intrusions and infections that can compromise your computer files or passwords by installing security patches for your operating system and other software programs.
Avoid Phishing Emails: Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from someone you don’t know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that t captures your passwords or other information you type.
Be Wise About Wi-Fi: Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected.
Lock Up Your Laptop or Tablet: Keep financial information on your laptop only when necessary. Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you’re finished. That way, if your laptop or tablet is stolen, it will be harder for a thief to get at your personal information.