By Brian Latkowski
I submitted my 2014 tax return on April 15th of 2015. I am rarely a “last minute guy” on anything I do, but when the federal government comes calling for money, I’ll wait until the last possible minute to mail in my return. Two weeks later, I received a letter in the mail from the IRS requesting a call. My first thought was, “Oh my gosh… I’m being audited and I need to call my accountant immediately.” After examining the letter more closely, the IRS was asking me to verify my identity. I could not believe it, was this really happening to me? There is no possible way my identity could be stolen; I am the guy that shreds everything! Calling the IRS is scary. My mind began swimming with questions: Am I actually talking to the IRS? How long is this going to take? The representative grilled me about my financial life as far as 10 years back to verify my identity. Then they told me someone had filed an erroneous tax return in my name.
The good news is the IRS didn’t pay out my refund to the thief. The IRS caught 19 million suspicious tax returns last year and blocked more than $63 billion in fraudulent refunds. On the other hand, fraudsters still walked away with $5.8 billion in tax refunds the same year.[i] Lesson learned: call the IRS immediately if you receive a notification like I did!
Talk About Stress
The IRS mailed me information on steps to take and entities to contact to resolve the issue. It took me a full two weeks and time away from work to make the calls (none of the offices were open nights or weekends). I waited an additional two months before the IRS confirmed my tax return was filed appropriately and my identity theft incident was put on my record. Beyond the time and effort I spent correcting this issue, the anxiety and stress made it difficult to manage everything else going on at work and at home.
Now that I’m a member of ID Sanctuary Premium, an IDT911 service that monitors my PII (personally identifiable information) and sends me a monthly report confirming my good name, I have a greater level of comfort. While no company can guarantee my identity won’t be stolen, having this service working behind the scenes greatly helps. They regularly scan databases, internet surveillance and other reports for your PII, alert you if suspicious activity is found, and will walk you step-by-step through the resolution process if needed so you won’t have to do it on your own.
Why Employers Should Pay Attention
Identity theft protection needs to be integrated into client conversations just like telehealth. ID Theft Protection is just as important as medical insurance to keep employees safe. What’s in it for employers? Peace of mind leads to increased productivity, reduced presenteeism, and decreased absenteeism. Employees can strike a better work/life balance when they have someone on their side to help with these time-consuming issues.
A month ago, I received a letter from the IRS with a special PIN. I am not able to file my 2015 taxes without this PIN, which is supposed to help block additional fraudulent filings in my name. However, if you’ve seen the latest news, the IRS was just hacked and millions of these PINs were stolen. Comforting, right? Take it from me—get educated on ID theft and be proactive in monitoring and guarding your identity. It could be the difference between collecting your own refund check this year and letting a scam artist take your money.
Brian Latkowski is an executive vice president of sales at New Benefits, a provider of non-insured health, personal security, financial, travel and leisure benefits. This article originally appeared on the New Benefits Blog.