And now that tax season is well under way, this is prime hunting time for one of the fastest growing areas of crime in the country: Tax fraud.
Months before the IRS even began accepting tax returns this year, the agency already logged more than 641,009 tax-related identity theft incidents from the first nine months of the 2012, according to a report from credit reporting agency Equifax. That's more than twice as many incidents as discovered in 2011, and more than 13 times the 47,000 found in 2008.
The scariest part? Thieves only need two pieces of your puzzle in order to piece together a fraudulent tax return and walk off with your refund –– your Social Security number and your address.
MoneyGram, the second largest money transfer business in the U.S., has learned a thing or two about the lengths fraudsters will go to dupe consumers.
Sometimes the key to sniffing out the bad guys is to throw on your skull cap and think like one.
Here are four things MoneyGram global security and investigation SVP Kim Garner says identity thieves don't want their victims to know:
Your trash is treasure: Go ahead and toss those credit card offers in the trash – if you want some savvy crook to sign up under your name. "A good rule of thumb is to shred all personal documents before disposing, from unsolicited credit card applications received in the mail to receipts received at retailer check-out locations," says Garner. Once thieves have your mailing address, all they need to do is wait for you to get sloppy and leave a document with your S.S.N. included. You'd be toast.
Your Facebook profile is a cheat sheet: Use LinkedIn or Facebook? You top the list of potential fraud victims and here's why: "Information you post on the Internet is never completely private, and fraudsters are adept at accessing information online, even within privacy settings," Garner says. Don't post your full birth date, home address, pets' names or anything else that could be used to impersonate you.
Family and friends are key: If you ever wondered what fraudsters wanted with all your old emails, it's unlimited access to your friends and family. "Fraudsters can hack email addresses and pose as a friend or family member, and then ask you to wire funds for some type of emergency, such as bail money or medical care," Garner says. It's one of the oldest tricks in the books and is still working, especially on the elderly.
They're looking to "hire": If you haven't seen headlines about job seekers getting duped into forking over their tax refund – and even their lives in some cases – then here's the skinny: They prowl job boards and hone in on consumers looking for quick cash. "Notifications of a job offer that asks you to send money via a wire transfer before you can start to make money may not be the best job for you," Garner warns. "Remember, you shouldn’t have to pay anything upfront to start a job."
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