• Ruth Amos RN JD

Identity Theft- Is Your State Inviting It?

I usually try not to rant in writing, but this is a good one! The article is posting late, because I waited until the money cleared the bank first…the italics and bold font below are mine.

As a dutiful taxpayer, I filed both 2017 Federal and State taxes- or rather my accounting firm did- way back in February 2018. I was due a decent refund for both, and eagerly awaited spending same.

All is good- the Federal return was quickly processed- no problems. Then on April 20, I received a letter dated April 5 with “California State Franchise Tax Board, Filing Compliance Bureau” on the letterhead, along with a thin white see through return postage envelope. It’s a nifty paper entitled “Tax Information and Document Request," also known as FTB 4734D ENS (REV 09-2017). The letter begins, and I quote:

“The California Franchise Tax Board employs security measures to protect California taxpayers and the State from tax related identity theft. Your 2017 California individual income tax return was selected for review. To process your tax return accurately, complete steps 1 through 4.”

Sounds reasonable, but wait ‘til you hear the steps:

1. Write your Social Security Number and your spouse’s on your tax return and also on your W-2/1099 on the table enclosed.

2. Provide (paper) copies of Forms W-2, Forms 1099, your driver’s license (or state ID), along with year to date paycheck stubs for your personal 2017 tax return.

3. Sign and date the form

4. MAIL the completed form, along with copies requested in step 2 within 30 days. If we do not RECEIVE a response, we may disallow your claim for a refund.

Being a data privacy aficionado, I immediately thought this letter must be one of those scams we hear sent out near tax season, so I went online to the official website and checked. Sure enough, there it was in plain view- it’s REAL! The official website also said something else that the letter does not. It states that the Franchise Tax Board gets 60 days to process the information once they claim to have received it. Mind you, I get 30 days to get all this to them from the date of the letter, or around 10 business days.

Now I can’t speak for you, but this seems to be a great way to invite unscrupulous people to steal my identity, not to mention the state keeping MY MONEY for quite a lengthy period of time. Think about it- I’m being asked to send- for MY IDENTITY PROTECTION- the following information via regular mail in a thin, see through unsecured envelope:

· Social Security Number

· Driver’s License (with photo and birthdate)

· W2, 1099 and

· Paycheck stubs

I called my accountant in New York, and he had never heard of anything similar to this from any other state. However, he offered to have his team review it and contact the Tax Board to see what they could do to help.

Feeling inspired, I thought maybe I could hand deliver the documents to the Regional office. I called the Regional office closest to my home and spoke with someone who stated that they are not equipped to handle hand delivered documents, so the only option was to send by regular mail, or fax to an unsecured line.

Undaunted, I tried the Regional office a few days later and after spending 40 minutes on hold, insisted on speaking with a supervisor. I explained my deep reluctance to send such sensitive data in the most unsecured manner possible in order to “protect my identity.” Fortunately, he was very sympathetic and seemed to understand the irony. After verifying about three identification questions over the phone, he said we were good to go and I should receive my full refund via direct deposit within two weeks. I told him he deserves a raise and the people who approved this letter need to be fired.

I’m happy to report that as of today, the funds are now safely in my account, and I can click the publish button. We need to have people in our state government who understand the digital world. Until then, you can expect to get letters like this one in your mailbox. If and when you do, make sure the money clears the bank before you publish your rant.

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