By Kate Weintraub
When I received my tax return last week, I was instantly looking forward to having some extra spending money in the bank. However, I was surprised to see a security note in addition to the paper check from the Government of District of Columbia. Attached to the check was a notice that, due to identity theft and refund fraud using direct deposit, the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue is converting all refunds to paper checks mailed to the taxpayer’s address. The full notice read:
“Identify theft and refund fraud using direct deposit has grown significantly nationally and locally in recent years. To minimize direct deposit/identity theft refund fraud, OTR is converting new direct deposit refund requests to paper checks mailed to the taxpayer’s address of record. If you were not expecting this payment, you may be the victim of identity theft.”
Small notices like this can serve as an important reminder that with so much of your personal information submitted and stored online, it’s important to be aware of electronic communication risks when dealing with sensitive information and recognize when it’s smarter to stick to paper. Digital may seem like the more convenient choice at the time, but risking identity theft is not worth it and could have potentially serious consequences.
Governments are picking up on the tax fraud problem and offering paper, to minimize the risk. Prior to D.C. implementing its policy in 2016, in 2015, roughly 25,000 returns, or one in every 15 returns, were flagged as fraudulent. Virginia passed a bill in 2015 that tax refunds only be issued via direct deposit or paper.
Paper should be an option for those who want to protect their personal information. When it comes to tax fraud, this is a serious and growing problem. As fraud continues to be exposed every year, governments are taking action to protect the rights of those who want to secure their information.