WILKES-BARRE — Identity thieves can use victims’ personal data to file fraudulent tax returns and obtain taxpayer refunds.
With that in mind, the Department of Revenue last week called on Pennsylvanians to protect themselves against identity theft as the holiday shopping season is underway.
Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell reminded Pennsylvanians that this time of year is a prime time for identity thieves to steal financial and personal data.
“Identity thieves can use this data to drain your bank account, or file a fraudulent tax return in your name early in 2020,” Hassell said. “That could give the identity thief an opening to steal the tax refund you may be entitled to. Don’t let this be a season of giving to identity thieves. Turn it into a season of protection for you, your family and your friends.
Hassell kicked off the fourth annual National Tax Security Awareness Week, a nationwide campaign designed to raise awareness around basic security steps. As part of this effort, the Department of Revenue partners with the IRS, other state tax agencies, private organizations in the tax industry and other groups.
Here are some basic steps people can take to protect themselves from identity thieves:
• Shop at websites where the web address begins “https” – the “s” is for secure communications.
• Don’t shop on unsecured public Wi-Fi in malls or hotels, where thieves can tap in.
• Secure your home Wi-Fi with a password.
• Use security software for computers and mobile phones; keep it updated.
• Protect your personal information; don’t hand it out to just anyone.
• Use strong and unique passwords for your accounts.
• Use two-factor authentication whenever possible.
• Back up your files on computers and mobile phones.
• Watch out for scam emails during holidays, tax season.
The most common way thieves steal identities or account passwords is simply by asking for it through phishing emails. Remember, don’t take the bait. Recognize and avoid phishing emails. These tricky scams often involve:
• Identity thieves posing as companies or government agencies you know and trust. That includes the IRS and the Department of Revenue.
• Emails telling an urgent story to trick you into opening a link or an attachment. Doing this can add a virus or spyware onto your computer.
• And, no, that’s not the IRS or the Department of Revenue calling to demand a tax payment on a gift card.
• The IRS and the Department of Revenue do not call demanding immediate payment and making threats of jail or lawsuits.
• The IRS and the Department of Revenue will not demand payment via gift or debit cards.
• The IRS and the Department of Revenue do not send unsolicited emails about refunds or payments, requesting your log-in credentials, Social Security numbers or other sensitive information.
Steps to follow if you are a victim of a scam:
• The Department of Revenue reminds taxpayers that it has a Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit dedicated to assisting victims of identity theft and combating tax refund fraud.
• If you are a victim of identity theft or discover a fraudulent Pennsylvania personal income tax return was filed using your identity, please contact the Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit at 717-772-9297 or RA-RVPITFRAUD@pa.gov.
For more information on ways to protect yourself, visit Revenue’s Identity Theft Victim Assistance webpage. You can also find further information about protecting yourself online at PA.gov/Cybersecurity.
AG announces review of
frequent lottery winners
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale last week said his new performance audit of the state Department of Revenue will include a review of frequent lottery winners and whether the Pennsylvania Lottery is doing enough to prevent fraud by winners and retailers.
“My goal is to protect older adults who rely on Lottery-funded programs,” DePasquale said. “If players or retailers are committing fraud, the Pennsylvania Lottery has an obligation to catch them and take action to protect the integrity of the Lottery Fund.”
Following a multi-state media probe of frequent lottery winners, several states started aggressively tracking high-volume lottery prize claimants.
One of the claimants, a Massachusetts man, pleaded guilty in May to running a scheme in which he purchased winning tickets from other lottery players at a discount to help them avoid paying taxes. He had cashed more than 7,300 tickets worth $10.8 million.
“When this issue first surfaced several years ago, I warned that I would be monitoring the situation,” DePasquale said. “Some lotteries have taken major steps to crack down on suspected fraudulent claims and I want to ensure that the Pennsylvania Lottery is doing everything possible to prevent and stop any fraud.”
The Lottery is a bureau in the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. The audit will evaluate the effectiveness of the department’s regulations, policies and procedures to prevent and monitor for fraud, abuse or other prohibited activity by lottery winners and retailers.
“Last fiscal year, Pennsylvania Lottery players bought $4.5 billion in games and claimed more than $2.9 billion in prizes,” DePasquale said. “Seniors, lottery players and the general public deserve to know if every dollar of those prizes was claimed in accordance with the law.”
Another objective of the audit will evaluate whether the Department of Revenue’s sexual harassment policy is effective and being followed.
“In 2016, state taxpayers paid $900,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against a former Revenue Department regional manager,” DePasquale said. “I want all state agencies to learn from that case and put an end to sexual harassment, once and for all.”
Nominations are open for 2020
Female Veterans Day celebration
The Pennsylvania Commission for Women is seeking statewide nominations for its fifth annual Female Veterans Day Ceremony as part of Women’s History Month in March 2020.
The event will take place at the Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg and veterans selected will be honored by Gov. Tom Wolf and First Lady Frances Wolf.
Wolf said there are currently more than 70,000 Pennsylvania women serving in the military and each of them has made profound sacrifices.
The Female Veterans Day nomination form should be filled out online. Nominees must be current Pennsylvania residents and have served at least four years in any branch of the U.S. military. The deadline for nominations is Feb. 1, 2020. All final honorees will be notified via email by Feb. 28, 2020.
For additional information on the nomination process, please contact the Commission for Women at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Changes upcoming to clearances for
employees having contact with children
Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller last week issued a reminder of upcoming effective dates for clearance requirements in the Child Protective Services Law.
“Allowing employees to have contact with children when necessary clearances haven’t been provided creates a risk that we cannot accept,” Miller said. “While change can create challenges, I know we are all aligned in our goal to ensure children are safe.”
As of Jan. 1, 2020, all employees having contact with children are required to obtain criminal background checks and the Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance prior to beginning employment. The change eliminates the ability for agencies or organizations to hire employees on a provisional basis. This ensures that those who have contact with children meet state and federal requirements and enhances the safety of environments where children are served.
Based on Act 47, child care centers, group child care homes, and family child care homes can request a waiver to hire an employee on a provisional basis for no longer than 45 days. This new employee is not permitted to work alone with children and must be in the immediate vicinity of a permanent employee until all required clearances are received. The waiver and instructions will be on the Keep Kids Safe website in the near future.
Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services law formerly allowed a 90-day provisional hire period for individuals who had applied for but were still waiting for clearance results. This period was eliminated in Act 47 of 2019 to ensure all having contact with children are legally able to do so.
In addition to Act 47 of 2019, The federal Family First Prevention Services Act also requires all adults who work in child care settings that receive Title IV-E funding to obtain child abuse clearances even if they are not working directly with children.