Identity theft in America has become rampant. Tax related identity crimes are now one of the fastest growing problems related to identity theft. The good news is that there are many ways to protect yourself, and your personal information, from identity thieves.
Identity theft affects millions of individuals every year. An identity thief can use your Social Security number to get all kinds of information about you, such as your tax information, financial information, and even personal information. There are a variety of ways they go about getting your Social Security number:
- Stealing it from your purse, wallet, or mail
- Stealing it from unsecured websites, businesses, personnel records at your work, and from your home
- Rummaging through your trash, business trash, and public trash dumps or landfills
- Pretending to be someone on the phone or by email who may need your information, such as an employer, creditor, or landlord
The theft occurs when the person using your Social Security number files a tax return in order to get a fraudulent tax refund. The IRS is aware of the problem and have initiated a “Taxes. Security. Together.” program that’s aimed at public awareness of the problem and the need for everyone to protect their personal information both online and in per-son.
By understanding how these thieves work, you can do your part to prevent them from getting your information. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Never carry your Social Security card or anything that has the number on it with you.
- Keep your Social Security number and other personal information in a safe place.
- Be vigilant when opening emails. Thieves use a variety of tactics to trick you into opening emails that ask you to click on links for a phony website. Once you’ve clicked on the link, they can retrieve any personal information you input, such as account numbers, passwords, and even your Social Security number. These are phishing scams and resemble a real company you may do business with.
- Set up firewalls and antivirus protection on all the computers you use. To get the most benefit, make sure any security software you install automatically updates. Always use strong passwords that include letters, numbers, and symbols and change your password frequently. Encrypt any files that have your tax records or social security number on your computer.
- Be aware of suspicious phone calls. The IRS communicates via letters sent through the U. S. Postal Service, they don’t call demanding payment or threatening a lawsuit.
- Pay attention to websites you shop at. The address should start with "https."
- The "s" in the address stands for secure, meaning the site is encrypted for your protection.
- Look yourself up online on different search engines. Many sites will sell information to one another and there are numerous websites that might have your information available for anyone to view. This information can include your address, email addresses, phone numbers, estimated salary, estimated net worth, relatives, and more. You can request these companies take your information off of their website and they will usually do so in 24-48 hours.
What to Do if You Think You’re a Victim
If you try to file your taxes online and get a message they have already been filed, chances are you’re a victim of this fraud. There are several things you should do if this happens:
- File your taxes on paper and send them in via the U.S. postal service.
- Go to the IRS website and Print out IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit and send it in along with your tax return.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a consumer complaint.
- Contact Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax and have a fraud alert placed on your account.
Once the IRS determines you are a victim of tax related identity theft, they will likely issue you a specific PIN to use for e-filing your taxes. This PIN number will change each year. To learn more, the IRS has a dedicated area on their website which is devoted to this topic. You can start with the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.