We're just four days away from the tax deadline, and it's a good time for a refresher on the dangers of tax fraud.
Tax fraud continues to be a huge problem, but there are big steps the government has taken in the past few years to crack down on tax fraud.
Back in 2012, tax fraud started to take off. People figured out how steal people's Social Security numbers and then file tax returns on their behalf. They got the refunds and often put them on debit cards as a way to elude police.
The taxpayer usually didn't find out until months later, when they tried to file a legitimate tax return.
How big was the problem? According to a government report last November, the IRS paid out $4-billion worth of fraudulent tax refunds back in 2012.
One of the problems law enforcement faced was getting cooperation from the IRS on prosecuting these cases. The laws simply hadn't caught up with the crime.
Fortunately, that has changed and police say they're not seeing the huge numbers of tax fraud cases here in the bay area that we had back in 2012.
So how can you protect yourself?
Don't carry your Social Security number around with you. If someone requests that information from you on the phone, mail, or internet, only share it if you know who you're dealing with.
You can also protect your computers by using anti-virus software and changing your passwords. Both of these tactics keep hackers away.
The IRS has doubled the employees they dedicate to working on identity theft cases, in an attempt to help protect you this tax season.
And if you haven't filed your taxes yet, time is running out, but there is good news, there is some free help out there.
The United Way is offering free tax assistance at 25 libraries and community centers throughout the Bay Area. This will save the average person about $180. The help is available now through the tax deadline on April 15.
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