HR professionals: Deter tax ID theft with an open-door (but closed-drawer) policy

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Identity theft is always taxing on victims. But when it’s tax identity theft – where fraudsters file for tax refunds in someone else’s name – HR professionals can play a key role as the defender that deters the crime, the sentry that spots it, and the cavalry that rushes to the rescue. Tax-related identity theft was the most common form of ID theft reported to the FTC last year with 109,063 complaints, roughly a third of the total ID thefts we received. Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week is a good time for HR offices to review their battle plans. Here are tips from the FTC to make that easier.

Beef up physical security.  What’s the most valuable thing at your company right now? Management may say expensive equipment or pricey materials, but to someone with crime in mind, it could be the Social Security numbers on W-2s, insurance documents, and other paperwork in your office. Easy access to Social Security numbers greases the wheels for tax ID thieves, so any piece of paper bearing those digits should be under lock and key. Encourage clean desktops during breaks and after hours. Once you're finished with documents that contain confidential data, dispose of them securely.

Limit access to sensitive information to staffers with a need to know.  Not every employee should have carte blanche access to every document in your files and on your network. Use secure office space and password protections to control access.

Don’t ignore well-founded suspicions.  Nobody likes to talk about it, but it has to be said: Sometimes tax ID theft is an inside job. There have been reported cases of con artists worming their way into companies for the primary purpose of stealing sensitive data. If your gut tells you there could be an in-house issue, discuss it with higher-ups at your company.

Educate employees about strategies to reduce the risk of ID theft – especially tax ID theft.  Studies suggest that once an identity thief strikes, it could take weeks or even months for victims to untangle the mess. So it’s no wonder that employees struggling with the aftereffects may not be bringing their “A” game to the office. Providing free ID theft prevention resources is one of the benefits people appreciate from their HR team. Have you considered taking these steps?

  1. Order free ID theft prevention brochures available in English, Spanish, and other languages or print them out from your desk. Distribute them to new employees as a just-in-time reminder when they're filling out forms as part of orientation. Offer a "Take One" stack in the Personnel Office or break room.
  2. Participate in one of the FTC’s online events during Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. 
  3. Educate employees about the telltale signs of tax ID theft.  Warning #1: A notification from the IRS that a return has already been filed under the employee’s Social Security number.
  4. Promote Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week by setting up a desk in the lobby or lunch room or including announcements on your office intranet. The FTC has buttons, banners, brochures, blog posts, etc., you’re welcome to use.
  5. Remind employees that the best way to foil tax ID thieves is to file returns early. Do your bit by getting employees the documents they need by the IRS’ January 31st deadline.
  6. Clue your staff in about IRS imposters – scammers who pose as tax officials to swindle people out of money and personal information. Consumer complaints have skyrocketed. In 2013, we received 2,545 complaints about IRS imposter scams. In 2014, that number jumped to 54,690. This infographic can help employees spot the difference between a legitimate IRS inquiry and a scam.
  7. Are you active in local, state, or national business groups? Get them involved, too. Tax ID theft prevention is a project tailor-made for HR professionals.

Serve as a resource if employees have been victimized.  Chances are you’ll be the first person at your company to spot the signs of tax ID theft. Maybe it’s a staff member who comes in with questions because their return hasn’t been accepted or a notice your company gets from the IRS listing a purported “employee” you don’t recognize. Offer an open door to employees fighting back against tax ID theft and share these resources from the FTC and IRS.



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