Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

SSN thieves lurking in tax season


Police urge taking special care when filing IRS returns

Perhaps the most unpleasant experience one can have in tax SUBMITTED GRAPHIC: SSAseason is filing your tax return only to find that someone else has already filed a return using your Social Security number.

Thieves are as busy as accountants at this time of year, and that means the theft of SSNs takes a sharp rise in March and April.

The Internal Revenue Service is improving at catching SSN theft and warning victims before they can be robbed. But in stopping SSN thieves, law enforcement agencies and the IRS can only do so much. The key is not letting yourself become a target: Be careful about any document that has your Social Security number on it.

“You definitely see Social Security numbers compromised at this time of year,” said Sgt. Tom Hamann of the Lake Oswego Police Department. “What happens is that people aren’t as careful with their Social Security number as they should be or a company isn’t as careful. Social Security numbers are usually lost through the mail.

“We all tend to get complacent on shredding our information. Usually nothing bad happens when we do this. That encourages us to let our guard down.”

A criminal looks in the right place for a SSN, such as previous tax documents or mortgages.

“Your Social Security number is very important,” Hamann said, “and it shouldn’t be in anyone else’s hands. To make sure nothing bad is happening on your credit, run a credit report on yourself. If you do suspect something, do something about it right away.

“Depending on the circumstances, some cases are impossible to find how thieves get access to information. Sometimes we can refer a case to the FBI, we can refer a case to credit reporting bureaus to send up a flag when they see something wrong, and the IRS has its own investigators.”

A glance at the police blotter shows that SSN theft is now rising sharply, with the April 15 tax filing deadline less than three weeks away.

“Fraud like this has a high success rate, at least in the short term,” Hamann said. “Theft of a Social Security number can ruin someone’s life. It can cost a lot of money to get out from under that type of thing. The problem is that people don’t find out about it until things are really, really bad.

“Crime is constantly evolving. Credit card companies are doing better at catching fraud, so criminals move on to a different way of stealing. As the net gets tighter, criminals find different holes. So the net has to get even tighter.”

To stop Social Security number theft, the public is urged to go to the IRS website at irs.gov and go under the heading “Identity Theft,” which is located near the top of the page in the color blue.