It seems taxes have been on our individual and collective minds in recent months.
Start with the presidential campaign. It was jam packed with debate, discussion and outright argument about tax policy, who should pay more, who should pay less and the such. The election was only recent history when the fiscal cliff fight broke out. The nation went to the 11th hour on that one, with additional battles yet to be fought over raising the debt ceiling. And then in recent days, virtually all Americans found their first paycheck of the new year somewhat lighter because a two-year rollback of payroll taxes, enacted to stimulate the economy, had expired. And, of course, it's tax preparation season until mid April and all Americans are preparing to have their 2012 returns completed and filed.
So, it was against that backdrop that Internal Revenue Service Special Agent Cindy Burnett visited the Upper Peninsula recently, to underscore the need for security, especially in the area of identity theft.
"We've got a lot of identity theft going on," Burnett told Mining Journal Staff Writer Jackie Stark for a front-page story Saturday. Burnett works in the IRS' criminal investigation department that covers the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula. Scammers, the special agent said, employ all kinds of electronic means and methods to achieve their goals - which often is filing a fraudulent tax return - including text messages, emails and even through social media vehicles such as Facebook.
The thing to remember about the IRS, she said, is that a letter on official letterhead would arrive via traditional mail. It would be up to the addressee to make the next contact, or potentially risk an in-person visit.
In 2012, the agency stopped about $20 billion in bogus returns, she noted, occasionally getting tips about scammers from newspapers and other media.
Her basic advice makes sense: Take care with personal information, especially Social Security numbers. Never assume that an electronic contact is legitimate. And if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is.