The IRS helping me?  Now that’s a good joke, right.  But the IRS is working to help us with a problem we all potentially face:  IDENTITY THEFT.

What is the IRS doing to help you with this problem?  They have created a cybercrime unit to battle this growing trend.  “We are creating a cybercrimes unit within CI to really focus on some large-scale cybercrime-related cases, specifically focused on identity theft and the impact on tax administration,” said Richard Weber, chief of IRS Criminal Investigation.

Weber said the new unit is not the result of the recent publicity this past tax season over tax refund fraud involving TurboTax. “This is something we’ve been looking at over the past nine months to a year,” he said. “We’ve seen an evolution of identity theft.”

When Weber arrived at IRS CI three years ago, he estimates the agency was spending less than 3 percent of its time on identity theft cases across the country. “We are now working on a national level an average of 18 percent of our time on ID theft,” he said. “In some areas like Tampa and Miami, Florida, where we have field offices, we’re working close to 50 percent of ourtime just on identity theft.  Data breaches are occurring at various types of businesses such as payroll companies, department stores and medical facilities. “We’re looking at probably hundreds of millions of records that have been breached from companies across America,” said Weber.

Personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers, account numbers and W-2 information, have been stolen from companies and that information is then used to attack the IRS system, he noted. Hackers are able to use the information they glean from data breaches to get around the various filters that the IRS has set up to detect identity theft.

So far this year there have been at least 270 data breaches, exposing more than 100 million records, according to Weber. “Those records could potentially be used to hit the IRS system or to impact the tax system,” he said. He noted that this February, there was a large-scale data breach at a health insurer, exposing 80 million customer records, including addresses, Social Security numbers and income data, the exact same data that’s needed to file for a tax refund.

“That is primarily the reason why we want to focus on cyber and the Darknet because of what is happening,” said Weber. “The Darknet, which I describe as the underbelly of the Internet, is really what criminals are using today to commit a host of crimes, not just tax refund fraud, which is why all the law enforcement agencies are trying to work better together on this issue because of what’s out there.”

While the IRS is stepping up their fight against identity theft, what can you do to minimize your exposure?  Here are five warning indications of identity theft that you should not ignore:

  1. Overdraw Fees   Although you might regularly check your bank account, there’s a chance that identity thieves may have stolen your credit card information.  With this information, thieves could use your debit or credit card in another state or overseas.  This can result in overdraw fees.
  2. Unexpected Medical Bills   With all the bills you receive, a medical bill may not seem out of place.  But if it is from a hospital or doctor you don’t recognize, this could be a sign of medical identity theft.  You should verify these charges with your insurance company or doctor to make sure there is no mistake.
  3. Tax Return is Late    Although the IRS has fraud detection technology for tax returns, some false tax returns may still get through.  A late return may be because the IRS is reviewing a duplicate return using your information.  If your tax return is delayed due to identity theft you should report this to the IRS immediately
  4. Mail is Missing    Some thieves will go after unsecured mailboxes and take mail that contains your personal information.  If you were expecting a piece of mail to come that contained personal data and you didn’t receive it, contact the sender.  If it was sent contact your local post office to report that some mail is missing.
  5. Notification of Medical Benefits Limit   If you receive a medical claim rejection, it may be that you have maxed out your benefits limit.  Contact your insurer immediately to challenge this and get things right.

Hey! Let’s be careful out there!

About the Author

Drew Cruse is the CFO and Chief Financial Officer of Allegheny Anesthetists. Drew is married with three children and three grandchildren. In his off hours, he enjoys reading and spending time with his growing family.