While identity theft continues to present a great burden to businesses, organizations and governments including the IRS, it’s individual victims are left to bear the lions share. In the past few years tax-related identity theft has become rampant. Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information including your social security number to file a tax return and claim a refund. The IRS paid out 5.8 billion in falsely claimed refunds in 2013.
For what it’s worth, the IRS has ramped up its efforts to combat identity theft. Some of the steps the IRS is taking include:
- Identify new steps to validate taxpayer and the tax return information at the time of filing, such as reviewing transmission of the tax return including improper and repetitive use of internet protocol numbers, internet address from where the return originated, computer device identification data tied to the return’s origin.
- Sharing of suspected identity fraud information and analytics from the tax industry to identify fraud schemes and locate indicators of fraud patterns
- Increased taxpayer communication regarding identity theft
But is this enough to protect against potential tax-related identity theft? I don’t think so. Remember that in a tax-related identity theft typically the perpetrator has already obtained, from other sources, your social security number, birth date, address, etc.
This past filing season we have had the unhappy task of telling a handful of clients that they likely have become an identity theft victim. When we electronically submit a return and the IRS rejects it because a return for the taxpayer has already been filed, this is a case of identity theft.
So here are some of the things you should do to protect yourself against identity theft.
Know the warning signs
- You do not receive your refund within 20-30 days after filing your tax return.
- You receive an IRS letter or notice in the mail that indicates that
- You owe additional tax,
- Your refund has been offset to pay for additional tax,
- You have collection action taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return,
- More than one tax return was filed for you,
- You receive a call from someone claiming to be an IRS agent or officer.
Note that the IRS will never make contact with you via phone or e-mail. The IRS only sends mail correspondence in order to communicate with taxpayers.
Reduce your risks
- Don’t carry your social security card or any document with your social security number on it.
- Do not give your social security number to someone just because they ask – unless it is absolutely necessary and you know who is asking and know they have a valid reason for asking.
- Regularly check your credit report – possibly annually. A credit report can be obtained from www.annualcreditreport.com, or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228, or by completing an Annual Credit Report request form and mail to: Annual Credit Report, Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
- Review your bank and credit card statements regularly.
- Protect your personal computers by using firewalls, anti-spam/virus software, update security patches and change passwords for internet accounts frequently.
- Don’t give personal information over the phone or via mail unless you have initiated the call/correspondence or are sure you know who is asking.
- Protect your personal financial information at home and on your computer, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.
- Do not ever respond to any phone call, e-mail, text message, social media channels, or any type of electronic communication, from anyone claiming to be an IRS agent/officer. The IRS initiates contact with taxpayers by mail only. Contact us before you share any information with any individual claiming to be from the IRS or any other tax authorities.
- If you are not currently affected by identity theft, but you may be at risk because your wallet/purse was stolen, or you have questionable credit card activity, contact the IRS Identity Theft Hotline at 1-800-908-4490.
Steps you should take if you do become a victim of identity theft
- Contact us if you believe you have become a victim of identity theft.
- Respond immediately to any IRS notice that you have received by regular mail (assuming you have received one). Call only the number provided in the notice.
- Contact IRS Identity Theft Hotline at 1-800-908-4490.
- Complete and submit to the IRS, Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit.
- Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return even if you must do so on paper.
- Contact your state tax authorities to see if identity theft has impacted your state tax filings.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a “fraud alert’ on your credit records:
Don’t become a victim of identity theft. Be aware that this is an exploding problem. Protect yourself to avoid becoming an identity theft victim.
If you have any questions or concerns about identity theft, please contact us.
Herman & Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Larchmont NY, Rye NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Bronx, Manhattan, Greenwich CT and beyond.