One third of all complaints to the Federal Trade Commission are about tax-related identity theft. Now as we enter tax season, foremost on the minds of all taxpayers should be the issue of avoiding the ID thieves. For five years in a row the numbers of such theft have increased. Taxpayer awareness must increase as well. Your Better Business Bureau has compiled information to help you keep your identity safe during this time of potential vulnerability.
To help deal with the problem, this year the IRS, the states and the tax industry are putting tougher safeguards in place. Software tax preparation programs may have noticeably shorter shutdown times after inactivity. There may be fewer chances to try again after a log-on error. These and other changes are all part of the coordinated efforts of the IRS, states and tax-preparation industry to fight the fraud problem.
When haste doesn’t make waste
The best tool in your arsenal of security measures is speed. Crooks are working diligently to beat tax filers to the IRS by filing fraudulent returns in others’ names. A notice from the IRS telling you that they have already received a tax return with your name on it can be the first inkling you have that you are being ripped off. The recovery process from such theft can be a long and complicated one, making it all the more vital that you get proactive with your filing. You are, of course, at the mercy of employers who have until January 31 to get your copy of your W-2 form to you. Be ready to file as soon as possible after receiving your forms.
Steps toward security
These are the additional steps that everyone should take to lessen their chances of being victimized by tax fraudsters:
• Protect your devices. Use security software on your computer devices that include firewalls and anti-virus protection. Keep that software working as it should with the latest upgrades.
• File only over a secure Internet connection. Don’t use public servers to file your taxes.
• Research your tax preparer by name on the Internet. Enter their name, or their company’s, along with the word “complaints” into your search engine.
• Check out your tax preparer with the BBB.
• Don’t be casual about mailing your forms to the IRS. If you aren’t filing electronically, take your form to mail it at a secure postal box. Don’t leave it on your mailbox from which it could be stolen. This time of year thieves are on the lookout for such opportunities.
• Shred unneeded rough drafts, notes or copies of your tax information when discarding.
• Ignore scam calls from crooks posing as IRS agents and threatening you. The IRS never contacts taxpayers by phone to demand payment.
• Keep a close eye on your credit reports. Check them at least once a year, along with any Social Security accounts you may have.
• Never give out information over the phone unless you made the call and are certain of whom you are talking to.
• Never carry your Social Security card or anything with your SS number on it.
Report suspected fraud to the IRS at 800-366-4484 and at this address: treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.
If you have questions or concerns regarding identity theft issues, contact your BBB by calling (800) 856-2417, or visit our website at bbbinc.org.