Tax season is a confusing time. In the midst of a paperwork blizzard, it seems that everyone needs triplicate copies of every document. It's not unusual for someone to lose a copy of an important document and need it to be re-issued. Of course, everyone's busy enough that no one want to double check.
That's exactly what scammers are counting on with a recent ploy targeting business owners and other people who prepare tax forms. In this scheme, the scammer sends an email claiming to be a hired company or someone from the IRS. They claim to be in need of duplicate copies of W-2 forms. An overworked clerk doesn't want an earful from the boss of may fear they are out of compliance with the tax authority, so they send the forms along with little questioning.
Unfortunately, those forms contain a lot of personally identifiable information. The W-2 includes a name, an address and a social security number. With that information, fraudsters can open fake credit cards and apply for other loans. they can also file a fraudulent tax return in an attempt to grab a refund check. In short, your W-2 in the wrong hands can mean serious trouble.
What To Do If You're Targeted
While the scam was originally directed at HR professionals and others at large corporations, scammers have broadened their net to include school districts, tribal councils, not-for-profits and small businesses. If you prepare W-2s for employees as part of your job or as a small business owner, be on the lookout for these fake emails. Here's the sample text from one such message:
"ATTN: Due to some complains (sic) we had concerning the W-2 mismatch, We advice (sic) you to send your 2015 filled W-2 form in (PDF) format for confirmation."
Notice the strange abbreviations, the spelling and grammar errors, and the poor punctuation. All of these are signs that this is not the professional work of the IRS.
You may also get a message that looks like it's from a boss or CEO asking for similar information. Watch for the same errors in spelling and grammar. It's always worth confirming these requests in another message. Also look out for emails from former employees. Scammers may be relying on outdated information.
W-2 security is a pretty big deal. If someone really needs another copy, the safest option is to mail it to the address listed on the form. While email is generally a secure way to communicate, its' not fully secure and you may not have assurance that the email is correct or uncompromised. There's no sense taking chances with sensitive information. it's also very unlikely that someone would need duplicate copies of ALL W-2s. Be suspicious of any such request.
If Your Information Has Been Compromised
If you fear your information has been unwittingly released by your employer, don't panic. There are three steps for minimizing the impact that this data breach can have on your life. Your first step should be a call to one of the major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax or Transunion. Ask them to put a fraud alert on your account. This will force anyone who wants to issue credit in your name to verify that you're actually the one asking for it first.
Next, order a copy of your credit report. This will show all the accounts that are open in your name. If you see anything you don't recognize, call the company and immediately close the account. Also, review statements for the accounts you do have. Check for charges you don't recognize. If you see any, call the issuing institution and shut down the account. Telling them there's fraud as soon as possible will limit your liability.
Third, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.identitytheft.gov. This will create a fraud affidavit, a document certifying that fraud occurred. This will help you when it comes time to file a police report and take additional steps.
It's also worth filing your taxes as soon as possible. If a thief tries to filea tax return using your information after you have already done so, the IRS will be alerted to the fraud and thus prevent further damage from occurring. Filing early will ensure that a complete and accurate return is available to investigators who would be looking into possible fraud.