We've all heard the warnings about identity theft. We've been briefed on what to look for. Check your credit reports, check your bank account, and then check again. Master Chief Legalmen Erin Meadows was all too familiar with the precautions.
Since so many health care and military processes and benefits required her Social Security number, she assumed that at some point her identity might be comprised, so she's always been pretty diligent with it. She was well aware of information and assistance available to assist ID theft victims and felt she was prepared for anything.
Only it wasn't her identity she had to worry about, it was her husband's. While attempting to file 2013 federal and state taxes, their submission was denied because of duplicative tax refund filing.
"We were receiving an error message which indicated one of our forms was not accurate," said Meadows. "After multiple associates verified the information from the referenced form was reported properly, H&R Block referred me to the IRS to inquire about the error message. Concerned, I immediately contacted the IRS and after multiple steps of verifying my identity and explaining the purpose of my call, the IRS advised me that the reason for the rejection was that someone had filed an individual return using my husband's SSN alone."
The IRS never alerted Meadows or her husband about the breach, said Meadows. They didn't notify anyone even though they were fairly certain his information had been compromised. However, after Meadows contacted them, she said they immediately began telling her what steps to take.
"The IRS provided references to a lot of the necessary precautions," said Meadows. "I was provided a case number and was advised to immediately file a police report with my local authorities.
Meadows took steps on her own as well, immediately contacting her bank and all three credit bureaus to place security freezes. She notified the Social Security Administration and the State's Attorney General's office. She also printed and became familiar with the IRS' Identity Theft Taxpayer Guide.
"The bank assisted us by placing an immediate freeze on any credit increase requests, without additional security checks and verifications, and they also placed additional security on any transactions above a mutually agreed upon amount," said Meadows. "Now, we receive communications from our bank regarding transactions which are out of the ordinary and especially those which are conducted out of our home state. When we travel, we now contact our bank to advise them of our travels so they can be aware of potential foreign transactions which are appropriate. Our bank and creditors have been very helpful and most accommodating through this entire process."
And as far as taxes, that is going to continue to be a bit of a hassle for the next few years. Meadows was also informed that in addition to her husband being required to submit a complete IRS ID Theft Affidavit with their hard copy tax filings and additional copies of photo identifications, they would also not be allowed to file their taxes electronically for at least three years.
Although Meadows and her husband did receive their federal tax refund, as far as they know, the thief has not been caught. They don't have any details on how they could have prevented this.
"We are more diligent than before, but we still don't feel very secure," said Meadows.
"The most disappointing part of all of this is that the IRS suspected something since the fraudulent return had been flagged and they did not notify us. Subsequent attempts to find out what happened or who filed the fraudulent return have been helpless since the IRS won't tell us anything. We both feel as though the IRS doesn't care and won't help even when they have information suspecting someone of wrong doing. Their process must be changed. They had to have information such as where the fraudulent return was requesting a check be sent to or where they wanted their return sent electronically. We know they are withholding vital information from us which could potentially help us understand how this happened and prevent future incidents."
Meadows now preaches diligence to everyone who will listen.
"Use fraud alerts, watch your credit, monitor your bank accounts - especially if using online banking, build a close relationship with your banking institution and purchase identity theft protection, if possible," said Meadows. "Our society relies upon SSN's far too much! Be aware of your finances and don't trust anyone!"
For more information on how you can protect yourself against identity fraud visit: FTC's Identify Theft website.
Reprinted from the July edition of the U.S. Navy's All Hands online magazine.
Editor’s Note: Due to the OPM data breach, CHIPS magazine continues to caution readers to be on guard against potential scams. For the latest information from OPM please visit the OPM Website: http://www.opm.gov/. Additional assistance is available from the Secretary of the Navy dedicated DON website to increase communications regarding the data breach: http://www.secnav.navy.mil/OPMBreachDON.