Now that tax season is here, scammers are feverishly trying to beat you to the draw. Filing your federal income tax may be a chore you delay as long as you can, especially if you owe taxes. If so, you are playing right into the hands of ID thieves who seek tax refunds in your name. Each year the IRS informs many taxpayers that someone has already filed a return using their stolen identity. That’s why your Better Business Bureau warns that it is vital for you to file your taxes quickly – to beat the scammers.
Since 2008, the IRS has encountered over 1.2 million tax-related identity theft incidents. A recent General Accounting Office report showed that the IRS paid $5.2 billion in refunds based on fraudulent tax returns during 2013. With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why scammers are attracted to taxpayer I.D. theft attempts.
The excruciating process of recovering from such theft can be long and, pun intended, taxing on you. The refund that is due you may not be paid to you for over a year, while the IRS investigates your case. So there are good reasons to file before a thief can and thereby “head ‘em off at the pass.”
Tips to keep your taxpayer ID safe
Here is some of the advice offered by the IRS to keep your ID to yourself:
• File your taxes as early as possible.
• File electronically only over a secure Internet connection. Be sure your computer’s firewalls and security software is up to date.
• When filing by mail, do it at a secure mailbox – not from your home.
• Shred unneeded rough drafts and copies of your return.
• Never carry your Social Security card or anything with your SS number, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, with you.
• Don’t give that number out just because someone asks for it, to a business or individual.
• Check your credit report every 12 months.
• Don’t give out your financial information without knowing that you are doing so securely.
• Never give information out over the phone unless you initiated the contact and you know whom you are dealing with.
• Scammers impersonating IRS agents continue to make threatening phone calls to people. They use fake “badge numbers” and agent names, they “spoof” your Caller ID readout to make it appear they are from the IRS, and they use faked crowd noise recordings to make it sound as if they are calling from busy IRS offices. Know that the IRS never initiates contact with you through a phone call. It will only be by mail. Hang up on anyone claiming to call you from the IRS.
• Research a tax preparer before using them with the BBB and also by entering the company’s name plus the word “complaints” into your web browser.
For more advice on protecting your taxpayer ID, go to irs.gov and do a search on the site for “IRS taxpayer guide to identity theft.” Report suspicion of such theft to the IRS Identity Theft Division at 800-908-4490.
If you have questions about identity theft issues, contact your BBB at (800) 856-2417, or visit our website at bbbinc.org.