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Although tax identity theft scams have decreased since 2015, Arizonans should remain vigilant with protecting their information this filing season.

The 2020 tax filing season kicks off this week, which means tax identity theft scammers have their eyes on the next big heist, and the state’s most vulnerable, including the elderly.

According to the National Council on Aging, financial scams targeting seniors are now “so prevalent” that they’re considered ‘the crime of the 21st century.’ Scammers play on the emotions of their victims, often pretending to be tax agency or human resources representatives.

WalletHub reported that Arizona ranked 26th in the U.S. for having the most identity theft cases in 2019, and 23rd overall in both theft and fraud.

As such, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is continually working with Arizona officials and the private-sector tax industry to fight against tax-related identity theft. Since 2015, the Security Summit – consisting of the IRS, 42 state tax agencies, and 20 tax industry offices – has helped stem the number of taxpayers filing identity theft reports by 71%. The coalition also helped reduce the number of confirmed false returns by 54%. 

The Arizona Department of Revenue’s (ADOR) fraud prevention system has stopped $120 million in fraudulent income tax refunds as well since 2015. Ed Greenberg, communications director for ADOR, said the number of fraud and ID theft cases has slightly declined over the last few years because of Arizona’s aggressive countermeasures in place.

“That said, while the number of cases has not been increasing, the issue remains a concern for the Department of Revenue as fraudsters are submitting returns with more personal data than in previous years,” said Greenberg. “Last tax year, more than 2,000 tax returns were submitted with fabricated or potentially stolen identities requesting refund amounts totaling more than $1 million that was flagged and stopped by the Department of Revenue’s tax fraud detection program.”

Greenberg added that one of the most popular scams the state fights against involves W-2 forms. In those cases, a scammer sends a phishing email pretending to be a company executive from a victim’s human resources payroll office. The scammer will then ask the victim to immediately email confidential payroll information.

In addition to the popular W-2 phishing email, Greenberg said a few other scams ADOR has stopped include:

  • The “William” scheme in which hundreds of bogus refund requests from tax returns were submitted from Florida using stolen identities of deceased men with the first name of William.
  • The Miami scheme, which featured fraudsters mailing 850 fraudulent tax returns asking for $500,000 in refunds using stolen identities of deceased residents of other states with fictitious Arizona addresses and wages.
  • The Ides of March Scheme, which involved fraudsters submitting returns in March for taxpayers who did not live or work in Arizona. Their e-filed returns were denied, and when they tried paper tax returns, these were flagged as well, which led to the scheme being identified.  

Because of the continued scams during tax season, ADOR encourages Arizona taxpayers to be vigilant in protecting their identities. The most common ways thieves steal identities include phishing schemes, card-skimming devices, unsecure Wi-Fi networks, data breaches, computer viruses, unsafe smartphone apps, and hacked email accounts.

ADOR also offers the following tips for this tax season to help with identity protection:

  • Do not carry identification with your Social Security Number (SSN) on it.
  • If someone asks for your SSN, always ask why because it is not always required.
  • Keep personal and confidential information in a secure place.
  • Take extra precautions when discarding personal or confidential information.
  • Protect personal and confidential information in a secure place.
  • Take extra precautions when discarding personal or confidential information.
  • Protect personal computers, smartphones, and other devices by using anti-virus software.
  • Use strong passwords and never share your passwords.
  • Never give personal information through unencrypted email, social media, or text messaging.

If Arizonans believe they are a victim of tax identity theft, they can contact ADOR’s Identity Theft Call Center at (602) 716-6300, toll-free at (844) 817-9691, or by clicking here. Taxpayers can also contact the Attorney General’s office with any concerns.