Weeks after the credit card breach at Target, I’m still getting new email newsletters and seeing alerts up on the websites of credit card companies about what they’re doing to help protect against fraud. You’d expect to hear this from them, but as I was doing some research on tax season, I was interested to read on the website of the Internal Revenue Service about how taxpayers can encounter identity theft through the process of filing returns.
The agency has more than doubled the number of employees working on identify theft cases since last year, bringing the total to 3,000. And it has more than 35,000 employees working with taxpayers to recognize, and provide assistance, when identity theft occurs.
The IRS said that one example of identity theft involving tax returns is when thieves try filing fraudulent refund claims using another person’s stolen information. Innocent taxpayers experience delays in receiving their refunds as the paperwork gets straightened out. The agency also said that if you receive a notice from the IRS, or hear from your tax professional about one of the following, you may be a victim of tax filing ID theft:
- More than one tax return for you was filed;
- You have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return;
- IRS records indicate you received more wages than you actually earned; or
- Your state or federal benefits were reduced or cancelled because the agency received information reporting an income change.
In addition to checking your credit report every 12 months, the IRS offered these tips to protect from becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Don’t carry your Social Security card or any documents with your SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) on it.
- Only give a business your SSN or ITIN number when required, not just because they ask.
- Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software. Also, update security patches and regularly change passwords for Internet accounts.
- Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.
If you believe that you’ve been the victim of identity theft, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, x245, to take steps to secure your tax account and match your SSN or ITIN.
In addition, the IRS recommends taking the following additional steps:
- Report incidents of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov or the FTC Identity Theft hotline at 877-438-4338 or TTY 866-653-4261.
- File a report with the local police.
- Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus:
- Equifax – www.equifax.com, 800-525-6285
- Experian – www.experian.com, 888-397-3742
- TransUnion – www.transunion.com, 800-680-7289
The author is solely responsible for the content.