Tax filing season is upon us! This time of year, tax fraud scams and identity theft are at a higher risk with fraudsters looking to claim some bogus refunds. Here are some tips on how to remain vigilant and proactively defend yourself against identity theft and tax refund fraud!
What is tax-related identity theft? It’s when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) to claim your tax refund. If you get a notice from the IRS saying more than one tax return has been filed with your SSN or IRS records show you have wage income from an employer you don’t know, chances are someone has stolen your identity and committed tax refund fraud.
Tax identity thieves may try to steal your personal information in a number of ways:
- Phishing - Con artists use unsolicited email and fake websites to lure potential victims into divulging personal information. The IRS does not contact taxpayers via email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. You can report any activity you deem suspicious to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Verification requests - Don’t be fooled by scammers asking you to “verify” your W-2 or personal information. If the IRS needed to request ID verification, they will generally send a letter 5071C (check the upper corner for the number) in the mail and ask you to verify your identity using the Identity Verification Service.
- Phone scams - Scammers impersonating IRS agents may make aggressive or threatening calls demanding money or offering a refund. Sometimes they even alter their Caller ID information to make it appear like they are calling from an IRS office. First legitimate contact with the IRS is usually via mail.
- Inflated refund claims - Beware of tax preparers who ask you to sign a blank check and promise big refunds before looking at your records or those charge fees based on the percentage of your refund.
- Fake charities - After disasters, it’s common for scammers to impersonate charities. You can use IRS.gov to find out which charities are legitimate. Don’t give out personal information. Don’t give or send cash, and don’t be pressured into making a decision over the phone.
- Mail theft - Fraud and identity theft often begin when a sensitive piece of physical mail like a statement or bill is stolen from cluster mailboxes or an unlocked home mailbox. Don’t leave your mail, especially bills or other documents containing personal information, in your mailbox overnight, and report any suspicious activity or suspected mail theft to a Postal Inspector.
Here are some other ways you can help defend yourself against tax-related identity theft and tax refund fraud:
- File your tax return early in the tax season, before identity thieves beat you to it.
- Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically. Don’t use unsecure, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots at places like coffee shops or a hotel lobby.
- Mail your tax return directly from the post office.
- Shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets you no longer need.
- Respond to mail from the IRS as soon as possible.
- Know the IRS won’t contact you by email, text, or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will first contact you by mail.
- Don’t give out your SSN or Medicare number unless necessary. Ask why it’s needed, how it’s going to be used, and how it will be stored.
- Get recommendations and research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information.
- If your SSN has been compromised, contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490
- Check your credit report at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.
For more information on identity theft and how to prevent it, visit http://bit.ly/2FsiYZq.
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