The last few years have seen a marked increase in tax identity fraud. About 1.6 million Americans were victims of tax ID fraud in the first half of 2013, up from 1.2 million in all of 2012. With tax identity fraud on the rise, how do you protect yourself and your return?
Examples of Tax Identity Theft Schemes
The IRS keeps a log of tax identity schemes in the hope that knowing how these schemes work will help taxpayers protect themselves from falling prey. The biggest concern for taxpayers is that someone could steal your personal information, then use it to file false returns.
Protecting Yourself From Tax Identity Theft
In addition to common sense protocols like securing your computer, Internet connection and personal information, there are other ways to protect yourself.
- Check the mail. If you get a notice about a tax return you never filed, you should contact the IRS immediately to resolve the issue.
- Maintain Internet silence. The IRS never contacts taxpayers using email or social networks. If you get emails purporting to be from the IRS or other tax officials, report them and delete them.
- Check your return. Get a transcript of your return from the IRS. Check it against your own records to ensure that it matches.
- Know the warning signs. There are a number of signs that your identity has been stolen for the purpose of tax fraud, including multiple returns in a single year, balances due, refunds offset or collection actions that are not legitimate. Another warning sign is receiving paperwork for wages you never received.
- Don’t carry your social security card around. Leave your social security card at home unless you know you will need it.
- Report identity theft to the IRS. If you’ve been the victim of ID theft, contact the IRS to let them know.
- Monitor your credit report. Keeping an eye on your credit report will let you know if there are any problems with it -- problems that could lead to tax ID fraud in your name.
- Secure your online return. Use a strong password when filing your return. After you’re done, save the copy to a disk, then secure it in a safe physical location, not on your hard drive.
What to Do if You Become a Victim
If you suspect that you have become a victim of identity theft, whether related to your tax return or not, contact the IRS immediately. The sooner you address it, the sooner you can end it.
Nicholas Pell is a freelance writer based in Hollywood, CA. He writes about music, personal finance and technology for publications such as LA Weekly, Salon and Business Insider. He’s been online since the days of Usenet groups and bulletin board systems.