Many of us may have already filed our taxes, especially if we’re expecting a refund. But as the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service warn – be careful, this is prime time for identity theft. Identity theft is among the most common scams, and scammers prey on people especially during this time of year.
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security Number (SSN) to file a tax return claiming your refund. You may be unaware that this has happened until you file your return and discover that a refund already has been sent to someone who used your SSN. Or, the IRS may send you a letter saying it has identified a suspicious return using your SSN.
Identity theft places a substantial burden on its victims and can have a lasting impact on your credit rating and your ability to invest in large purchases, such as a home or a car. In order to avoid this, follow the tips from the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Trade Commission below.
Be alert to the possibility of fraud if you are contacted by the IRS about:
- More than one tax return being filed for you,
- Owing additional taxes, having a refund offset or having had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return or
- IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer for whom you did not work.
If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission recommends these steps:
- File a complaint with the FTC at identitytheft.gov.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to
place a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit records:
- www.Equifax.com 1-888-766-0008
• www.Experian.com 1-888-397-3742
• www.TransUnion.com 1-800-680-7289
- Close any financial or credit accounts opened by identity thieves.
(Even with the recent trouble with some of the credit reporting agencies, it is better to check your rating with them and get details of transactions you may not have made.)
If your SSN is compromised and you know or suspect you are a victim of tax-related identity theft, the IRS recommends these additional steps:
- Respond immediately to any IRS notice; call the number provided. Don’t wait, thinking it will disappear. It won’t!
- Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if your filing return is rejected because of a duplicate filing under your SSN. Use the form at IRS.gov, print, then attach the form to your paper return and mail according to instructions.
- Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.
- If you previously contacted the IRS and did not have a resolution, contact them for specialized assistance at 1-800-908-4490.
More information is available at: IRS.gov/identitytheft or the FTC’s identitytheft.gov.
It is always better to prevent fraud and identity theft. In order to do that, these are a few ways to reduce your risk of identity theft:
- Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Use strong passwords, and change them often.
- Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit card companies and even the IRS. We’ve addressed these issues in previous columns, and will continue to alert consumers of new ones that arise.
- Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails. Even if it promises something attractive – if you don’t know where the attachment is coming from, don’t open it. It’s the easiest way to get into your information and use it against you. Scammers are smart; we have to be smarter!
- Protect your personal data. Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card, and make sure your tax records are secure.
It’s important to know that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.
So as always, we remind you that a smart consumer is a safer consumer – and if something happens to you, there are places to go for help. Pass it On!
This article was written by Catherine Blinder, chief education and outreach officer of the Department of Consumer Protection of the State of Connecticut. To learn more about how the Department of Consumer Protection can help, visit us online at www.ct.gov/dcp.