The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) expects nearly 155 million individual tax returns this tax season, which officially begins January 29 and runs through the deadline, April 17. In the wake of last year’s data breaches, many tax filers are concerned about tax-related identity theft this tax season.
The Equifax data breach alone exposed sensitive information, including social security numbers, of 143 million Americans, as previously discussed by Beasley Allen. So, despite the decreasing number of stolen identities, which dropped by 46 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to USA Today, the IRS agrees that tax filers have good reason to be extra vigilant this year.
The agency explains that tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses a stolen social security number to file a tax return and claims a fraudulent refund. It also offers some hope, explaining that not all data breaches or computer hacks result in tax-related identity theft.
A tax filer usually will not realize their identity has been stolen until they file their return, only to learn that a return has already been filed using their social security number.
Filing a return as early as possible is a way some experts recommend protecting your tax return, CNBC explains. A taxpayer may also change their withholding so that they reduce the amount of their refund and, therefore, the amount of financial exposure.
The IRS also recommends the following efforts to reduce your risk of tax identity theft:
- Use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections along with strong passwords.
- Avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit card companies and even the IRS. The IRS does not contact taxpayers to request personal or financial information by email or other electronic communication, such as text messages and social media platforms.
- Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
- Protect your personal data. Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card, and make sure your tax records are secure.
If a taxpayer learns they have become a victim of tax identity theft, they should:
- File a complaint with the FTC at identitytheft.gov.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a “fraud alert” on their credit records:
- Equifax, www.Equifax.com, 800-525-6285
- Experian, www.Experian.com, 888-397-3742
- TransUnion, www.TransUnion.com, 800-680-7289
- Contact their financial institutions, and close any financial or credit accounts opened without the taxpayer’s permission or tampered with by identity thieves.
Those who believe or know their social security number has been compromised or suspect they are a victim of tax identity theft should:
- Respond immediately to any IRS notice; call the number provided.
- Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if an e-filed return is rejected because of a duplicate filing under a victim’s social security number or they are instructed to do so. Use a fillable form at IRS.gov, print, then attach the form to the return and mail according to instructions.
- Consider applying to the IRS for an identity protecting PINS or IP PINS.
For additional tips on preventing tax-related identity theft, visit the IRS identity theft webpage.
Internal Revenue Service