Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes nationwide, and tax refund fraud caused by identity theft is one of the biggest challenges facing the IRS. This year, the Internal Revenue Service continues to take new steps and strong actions to protect taxpayers and help victims of identity theft and refund fraud.
Stopping refund fraud related to identity theft is a top priority for the tax agency. The IRS is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible.
Taxpayers can encounter identity theft involving their tax returns in several ways. One instance is where identity thieves file fraudulent refund claims using another person’s identifying information, which has been stolen. Innocent taxpayers are victimized because their refunds are delayed.
Here are some tips to protect you from becoming a victim, and steps to take if you think someone may have filed a tax return using your name:
▪ Don’t carry your Social Security card or any documents that include your Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
▪ Don’t give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
▪ Protect your financial information.
▪ Check your credit report every 12 months.
▪ Secure personal information in your home.
▪ Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing 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 your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost or stolen purse or wallet, questionable credit card activity or credit report, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 (7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays through Fridays).
Be alert to possible identity theft if you receive a notice from the IRS or learn from your tax professional that:
▪ 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.
▪ Your state or federal benefits were reduced or canceled because the agency received information reporting an income change.
If you receive a notice from the IRS and you suspect your identity has been used fraudulently, respond immediately by calling the number on the notice.
If you did not receive an IRS notice but believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 right away so we can take steps to secure your tax account and match your SSN or ITIN.
Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 305-470-1670.