Florida is ranked number one in the nation for fraud, with Tampa Bay being the epicenter, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). To help protect residents, the City of Gulfport hosted a Fraud Prevention Forum at the Catherine Hickman Theater on Wednesday, February 5 from 2 to 4:30 p.m.
The number of fraud victims in the Tampa Bay area isn’t appealing. The level of sophistication and manipulation involved in scams can be scary for an uniformed person, but knowledge is the best defense according to Gulfport Police Department’s Volunteer Coordinator Jim Wright.
“My intent is to raise awareness to the scams that are affecting our neighbors,” said Wright. “I knew I had to get the experts here to heighten awareness and empower our citizens.”
The two-and-a-half-hour forum hosted speakers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Middle District of Florida, IRS Criminal Investigations and the FBI.
“You can protect yourself,” was the mantra repeated by every speaker during the forum. And, if you’ve already fallen victim to a scam, they explained, there’s help out there. Organizers hope that residents walked away with the knowledge to protect themselves, their friends and family. Or, at least a better understanding on how to prevent falling victim to scams and becoming another statistic.
IRS Supervisory Special Agent Ryan Thompson had some important tips to prevent tax fraud this tax season.
“Everyone has been a victim of identity theft,” explained Thompson. “I’m here to tell you how to prevent your identity – not from being stolen, but from being used.”
Tax Season started on Friday, January 28. According to Thompson, most if not all residents should have completed filing their taxes by now. Early filing prevents scammers from using a person’s SSN to file on their behalf, using made up income figures, dependents and other false information to ensure a greater return for the criminal. If citizens wait too long, criminals have a better chance at finding an “unused” SSN to file with.
Pick a good return preparer
Beware of who you use to file your return. Ask pertinent questions: How are you trained? What are your credentials?
If filing a return through a preparer, Thompson urges citizens to review their returns line by line before submitting. Once a thorough review is done, be sure to watch the preparer file immediately before leaving the office.
Once a return is reviewed, a fraudulent preparer has the opportunity to change the information on the return that can earn them money and put citizens at risk for unexplained funds they never received.
Request an IP PIN from IRS.Gov
Thompson’s final tip to residents: “Request an identity protection PIN from the IRS.”
An IP PIN is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers to help prevent the misuse of their SSN on fraudulent federal income tax returns. An IP PIN helps the IRS verify a taxpayer’s identity and accept their electronic or paper tax return and prevents someone else from filing a tax return with your SSN.
Thanks to Florida’s staggering fraud statics, every Florida resident is eligible for an IP PIN.
Many other topics were discussed during the forum. For more information, Wright encourages residents to reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 727-893-1022.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Reach out to someone you trust,” encouraged Wright.