Sadly, we have become all too familiar with identity theft: someone else using your personal information without permission to commit fraud or other crimes. While most of us are familiar with “traditional” identity theft, such as someone stealing from your bank account or taking out a loan in your name, not many of us consider tax-related identity theft.
Tax-related identity theft occurs when a thief uses a taxpayer’s identity to file a fraudulent tax return and either claim a refund or avoid paying taxes. Unfortunately, you may only become aware of this when you file your return and find out the IRS has already received a return in your name.
Should this occur, the IRS will send you a notice that either
- More than one tax return was filed for you,
- You have a balance due or have collection action being taken against you for a year you did not file or
- You were paid wages by an employer you are not familiar with.
If you receive such a notice and suspect someone else used your identity, you need to respond right away.
To protect yourself in the future, do the following:
- Put all your financial and tax-related documents in a secure location
- Password protect all your electronic devices: computer, tablet, smartphone, etc.
- Use virus protection programs
- If you receive an e-mail from someone you don’t recognize, do not clink on any links
Note: The IRS will not initiate contact with you via e-mail or social media tools to obtain personal financial information.
- Do not conduct financial transactions or e-file your tax return on public computers; thieves can intercept your information
- Monitor your credit report. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion.
If you suspect your identity has been stolen,
- File a police report
- Contact one of the credit bureaus; the company you contact is required to contact the other two
o Equifax www.equifax.com888-766-0008
o Experian www.experian.com 888-397-3742
o TransUnion www.transunion.com 800-680-7289
- Contact the company or account at which you spotted suspicious activity
- Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov 877-438-4338
- File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center www.ic3.gov
While most of us are not likely to be victims of identity theft, knowing the risks, being aware, and protecting ourselves are our best defenses against such a costly crime.