LITTLE ROCK - More than 140 Arkansas State University employees in Jonesboro received unwelcome notices from the Internal Revenue Service recently, questioning the number of deductions they had taken on their recently filed tax returns.
More problematic than the deductions claim was the fact that the employees had not yet filed their tax returns this year. All of them had fallen victim to an identity theft scheme in which criminals submitted phony returns to the IRS in their name.
Law enforcement agencies are investigating the matter, and the perpetrators have not been identified. An identity theft expert from the Attorney General's Office is meeting with the affected employees today to offer advice on how they can protect themselves against further identity fraud.
Because others have also fallen victim to this identity theft scheme, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert today to let Arkansans know the steps they need to take in the event they have their identity stolen.
"Technological advances have made all our lives easier, but they have also made it simpler for a criminal to obtain our personal and financial information," McDaniel said. "Victims of this crime must be diligent to check their bank statements and credit reports for fraud, and advise creditors that their identity may have been stolen."
In the case of the ASU employees and other taxpayers who were scammed, the victims will file an affidavit with their actual tax returns to send to the IRS.To help avoid identity theft involving tax returns, McDaniel suggests shredding any documents containing personal information and using caution when entering financial information on the Internet.
If consumers receive a notice from the IRS that they believe was a result of a fraudulent tax return submitted in their name, McDaniel encouraged them to contact the IRS.
The Attorney General's Office recommends these steps for identity theft victims:
- File a police report with local law enforcement immediately. A written record of such a report is necessary to help in rebuilding a victim's identity when dealing with creditors and credit reporting agencies. Consumers should request a copy of the report for their records.
- File a fraud alert with one of the three national credit bureaus. The credit bureau with which a fraud alert is filed is required to contact the other two, which will then place a fraud alert on credit reports with their bureaus as well. Then, if an application for credit is filed,, and the prospective creditor checks a credit report, the prospective creditor will be alerted to the possibility of identity theft.
- Contact banks, credit unions and other financial institutions. If checks, checking account information, or debit cards have been stolen, or the information has been compromised, financial institutions can freeze an account. Consumers should review their bank statements and stop payment on any suspect transactions.
- Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Contact the company involved to dispute the fraudulent transactions or accounts, and follow up with the company in writing. All correspondence should be sent by certified mail. Ask the company whether a fraud affidavit is required. If a fraud affidavit is required, the company may send a specific affidavit.
- Consider placing a security freeze on credit reports. Victims of identity theft may freeze a credit report without charge. A security freeze is designed to restrict access to a credit report and help prevent additional instances of identity theft.
- Consider applying for an Identity Theft Passport from the Attorney General's Office. The ID Theft Passport may be used as an additional form of identification and may be presented to creditors or other businesses investigating alleged debts.
The Attorney General's Office also provides a free booklet to help consumers navigate the aftermath of identity theft. To request a copy of the booklet, or for other consumer-related information, call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 482-8982.
The Consumer Protection Division's website is www.GotYourBackArkansas.org.