Take these three steps to help protect your IRS tax refund from poaching.
January 28 to February 1 marks National Tax Identity theft Awareness Week. It’s a good time to focus on tax ID theft, as most Americans gear up to file their 2018 IRS tax returns. But what is tax ID theft and how can you protect against it?
What is tax ID theft?
Tax identity theft occurs when someone steals your Social Security number in order to file a false tax return in your name. The goal is to get your refund before you even have a chance to file a return. You may not even know you’re at risk until you try to file and the IRS tells you a return was already filed in your name.
Unfortunately for everyone, tax identity theft doesn’t discriminate. Anyone with a Social Security number is vulnerable. Criminals even prey on children’s identities during tax season so they can claim them as dependents and get a deduction.
The good news is that in recent years, cases of tax ID theft have been vastly reduced. According to the IRS, ID theft cases dropped 40% from 2016 to 2017. Hopefully, that trend continues. In the meantime, it’s best to prepare yourself for tax identity theft before it happens.
3 ways to help keep your refund out of someone else’s hands
#1: File as early as possible
Tax identity theft relies on fraudsters getting a return submitted in your name before you do. If someone has your Social Security number (SSN), they can accomplish this relatively easily. Filing your return early keeps them from being able to file fraudulently. This way, you are the only one who gets to cash in on your tax return.
Once you have all of your W2s, don’t wait! File immediately so you can get your refund and avoid a giant hassle. Also, remember your 1095s – they are still required this year.
#2: Take steps to protect your Social Security number
Your Social Security number is necessary for a fraudster to use your identity for tax ID theft. Taking steps to protect your SSN helps you minimize the risk of tax identity theft (and a host of other problems).
There are standard best practices that you can follow:
- Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse
- Keep your cards locked up at home
- Get a locking mailbox and retrieve your mail promptly every day
- Shred documents that include your SSN and other personal data before you toss them
- Avoid putting your SSN on forms at doctors’ offices, hospitals, and other service providers – even if they ask for it, see if it’s required
Additionally, you can register your Social Security number at www.ssa.gov/myaccount to open a “my Social Security account” online. This account allows you to check your Social Security statements anytime you want. It also shows your earnings, which can reveal that someone has gotten a job using your number. It’s another sure sign of SSN identity theft.
You can learn more about signing up for my Social Security on our personal finance blog Miss Money Bee.
#3: Only trust mailed IRS communications
Whether you’ve already filed or not, you should never trust any communication from the IRS unless it’s an official, mailed letter. The IRS will never email you, text you, call you on a phone (even your home landline) or send you a message over social media to initiate contact. If someone contacts you any other way claiming to be the IRS, it’s a scam!
The most common type of this scam is IRS collections. Someone calls or texts claiming to be an employee of the IRS, stating you owe money and must pay immediately. They may even offer all or part of your SSN as proof that they are who they say they are. They aren’t.
If someone contacts you about an IRS collection action, verify it first before you give them anything. You can call an IRS collection hotline at 1-800-829-1040 to confirm that you owe federal taxes.
An important note concerning the government shutdown
Usually, the FTC hosts online events for Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. The status of these events is pending due to the government shutdown. In addition, the government has stated that tax refunds will still be issued as scheduled.