identity thief at work
identity thief at work

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It’s Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week: What You Need to Know

You’ve heard about the risks of identity theft, when someone does something like opens credit cards in your name and runs up the bills. But have you heard about the dangers of tax identity theft? It’s a growing concern that the IRS wants you to be aware of so you can protect yourself.

Here’s what you need to know about tax identity theft:

What is it? Tax identity theft is when someone uses your social security number (SSN) to file taxes and claim a fraudulent refund.

Why is this a problem? You probably had big plans for your refund and don’t want to wait months for it! Plus, sorting it all out can become a big, time-consuming headache as you work your way through the process of getting everything straightened out with the IRS.

How will you know if you’ve been the victim of tax identity theft?

  • The IRS may contact you. Note that the IRS will never contact you via email, text or on social media. If someone claiming to be the IRS contacts you this way, forward the email or message to phishing@irs.gov.
      • It will look to the IRS like you tried to file your tax return twice. If the fraud filed first, the IRS will think you already got your refund. They will contact you to let you know that more than one return was filed for you.
      • If someone uses your social security number to get a job, that employer might report the earnings. If you haven’t noted the same thing in your return, it will look like you failed to report earnings and the IRS will let you know.
  • The tax return you try to e-file gets rejected because the system thinks it’s a duplicate.
  • Your professional tax preparer may be alerted to something suspicious like what’s listed above.

What should you do if you believe you are the victim of tax identity theft?

These are the steps you should take to resolve an issue of tax identity theft, depending on how the fraud was uncovered.

  • If the IRS notifies you of the problem, you might receive a letter from the IRS to verify your identity. Follow the steps closely. Once you’ve proven your identity, you’ll be able to tell the IRS whether you filed the return. If you didn’t file the return, it will be removed from your records and you may have to file by paper for the current season. If the return was yours, the IRS will process it and send your refund. The length of time it takes to resolve each case depends how complex it is.
  • If you believe there is an identity theft issue with your return, you should file a paper return along with an Identity Theft Affidavit. After both are processed, you’ll get a letter from the IRS acknowledging receipt and your case will go to their Identity Theft Victim Assistance organization if there’s already another return on file with your SSN. They will take several steps to resolve your case and send you a notification once it’s complete. Cases are typically resolved within 120 days.

How can you reduce your risk of tax identity theft?

The IRS recommends several steps to decrease your chances of becoming a victim of tax identity theft including:

  • Use strong a password, security software, and anti-virus protections.
  • Learn to recognize people posing as IRS, bank, and credit card company officials.
  • Don't click on links unless you know where they’ll take you.
  • Don’t download attachments from questionable emails.
  • Protect personal data, such as your SSN and tax records.
  • File early to beat a fraud to it.

You work hard for your money! Make sure you take the necessary steps to protect what’s yours.