Tax-related identity theft is a growing problem in the United States, so much so that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has taken specific steps in the last three years to combat it. This kind of identity theft occurs when somebody steals your Social Security number and uses it to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Victims of tax-related identity theft suffer delayed refunds as the IRS must sort out fraudulent documents, creating headaches and frustration for both taxpayers and the government.
Typically, many victims don’t realize their identities have been stolen until they try to e-file their returns and discover that a return has already been filed using their Social Security number. In other cases, the IRS will send a letter informing the victim that they have identified a suspicious tax return using the victim’s social security number. In order to avoid having your identity stolen this upcoming tax season, it’s important to know the warning signs.
For instance, the IRS never starts contact with a taxpayer by sending an email, text or social media message requesting personal information. If you receive such a phishing email or encounter suspicious online activity, do not reply or click on any of the links. Instead, report it to the IRS immediately by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For phishing scams by phone, fax or mail, call 1-800-366-4484.
Other red flags include owing additional taxes, refund offsets or collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return, or if IRS records show that you received wages from an employer for whom you never worked.
Here are some other tips for avoiding tax-related identity theft:
- Never carry your Social Security card or any documents with your SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) on them.
- Don’t give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
- Secure and protect your financial information.
- Regularly check your credit report every 12 months.
- Use firewalls, anti-spam/virus software security patches and change passwords for Internet accounts in order to protect your personal computers.
- Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or online unless you have initiated the contact or are certain you know the other party.
- If you think you are the victim of tax-related identity theft, or if the IRS sends you a notice or letter saying there’s a problem with your taxes, contact the IRS immediately. The agency will work you to get the issue sorted out, get your return filed, and get you your refund. Their team of specialists will also help you secure your IRS account from thieves and schemes in the future.
Steps for victims
- Should you become the victim of tax-related identity theft, contact the IRS immediately at 1-800-908-4490 or visit identitytheft.gov and report the fraud.
- Send a copy of your police report or an IRS ID Theft Affidavit Form 14039 and proof of your identity, such as a copy of your Social Security card, driver’s license or passport.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records:
Equifax, www.Equifax.com, 1-800-766-0008
Experian, www.Experian.com, 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion, www.TransUnion.com, 1-800-680-7289
- Contact your financial institutions, and close any financial or credit accounts opened without your permission or tampered with by identity thieves.