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How do I… Guard against taxpayer identity theft?

Steve Grgas

How do I… Guard against taxpayer identity theft?

The number of tax return-related identity theft incidents has almost doubled in the past three years to well over half a million reported during 2011, according to a recent report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). Identity theft in the context of tax administration generally involves the fraudulent use of someone else’s identity in order to claim a tax refund. In other cases an identity thief might steal a person’s information to obtain a job, and the thief’s employer may report income to the IRS using the legitimate taxpayer’s Social Security Number, thus making it appear that the taxpayer did not report all of his or her income.

In light of these dangers, the IRS has taken numerous steps to combat identity theft and protect taxpayers. There are also measures that you can take to safeguard yourself against identity theft in the future and assist the IRS in the process.

IRS does not solicit financial information via email or social media

The IRS will never request a taxpayer’s personal or financial information by email or social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Likewise, the IRS will not alert taxpayers to an audit or tax refund by email or any other form of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.

If you receive a scam email claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS but does not begin with ‘www.irs.gov’, forward that link to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

How identity thieves operate

Identity theft scams are not limited to users of email and social media tools. Scammers may also use a phone or fax to reach their victims to solicit personal information. Other means include:

-Stealing your wallet or purse
-Looking through your trash
-Accessing information you provide to an unsecured Internet site.

How do I know if I am a victim?

Your identity may have been stolen if a letter from the IRS indicates more than one tax return was filed for you or the letter states you received wages from an employer you don’t know. If you receive such a letter from the IRS, leading you to believe your identity has been stolen, respond immediately to the name, address or phone number on the IRS notice. If you believe the notice is not from the IRS, contact the IRS to determine if the letter is a legitimate IRS notice.

If your tax records are not currently affected by identity theft, but you believe you may be at risk due to a lost wallet, questionable credit card activity, or credit report, you need to provide the IRS with proof of your identity. You should submit a copy of your valid government-issued identification, such as a Social Security card, driver’s license or passport, along with a copy of a police report and/or a completed IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, which should be faxed to the IRS at 1-978-684-4542.

What should I do if someone has stolen my identity?

If you discover that someone has filed a tax return using your SSN you should contact the IRS to show the income is not yours. After the IRS authenticates who you are, your tax record will be updated to reflect only your information. The IRS will use this information to minimize future occurrences.

What other precautions can I take?

There are many things you can do to protect your identity. One is to be careful while distributing your personal information. You should show employers your Social Security card to your employer at the start of a job, but otherwise do not routinely carry your card or other documents that display your SSN.

Only use secure websites while making online financial transactions, including online shopping. Generally a secure website will have an icon, such as a lock, located in the lower right-hand corner of your web browser or the address bar of the website with read “https://…” rather than simply “http://.”

Never open suspicious attachments or links, even just to see what they say. Never respond to emails from unknown senders. Install anti-virus software, keep it updated, and run it regularly.

For taxpayers planning to e-file their tax returns, the IRS recommends use of a strong password. Afterwards, save the file to a CD or flash drive and keep it in a secure location. Then delete the personal return information from the computer hard drive.

Finally, if working with an accountant, query him or her on what measures they take to protect your information.