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How to Protect Yourself From Taxpayer Identity Theft

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Magnifying glass on tax return, looking for taxpayer identity theft

Tax identity theft happens when an identity thief swipes your Social Security number, files a tax return in your name and claims a fraudulent tax refund in your name. You may not know it’s happened until your legitimate tax return gets rejected or you receive a notice from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). And by then, it’s too late.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to ensure you don’t become a victim of taxpayer identity theft.

Avoid Email Scams

The IRS doesn’t contact taxpayers by email or social media to request personal or financial information. If you receive such a communication, report it to the IRS by forwarding it to phishing@irs.gov.

Beware of Phone Scams

Scammers often call claiming to be an IRS agent and threaten you with arrest or deportation if you don’t pay them. Or they ask for your financial information so they can send you a refund check. Report a scam phone call to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 or online at IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting.

As of 2017, the IRS authorized four debt collection companies—CBE Group, Conserve, Performant and Pioneer—to collect on outstanding debts. These companies will never ask you to pay with a prepaid debit card. And all payment checks are made payable to the U.S. Treasury and sent directly to the IRS, not the collection agency. These agencies should also inform you of electronic payment options available on www.irs.gov/payments.

Text messages purporting to be from the IRS are also a scam. Be sure to report them as well.

Protect Your Social Security Number

Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Keep your Social Security card and any other document that shows your Social Security number in a safe place. Also:

  • Only share your Social Security number when absolutely necessary
  • Safeguard your personal financial information in your home and on your computer—change online passwords regularly
  • Review your credit reports and your Social Security Administration earnings statement each year for accuracy

Monitor Your Credit Score

By checking your credit score regularly, you can spot unusual activity. Big, unexpected changes can indicate a thief has struck. You can get a free Experian credit score and a free credit report card from Credit.com. Your report card includes tips to help you track how your credit is doing. Your score and report card are updated every 14 days.

Check Your Tax Return History

You can find a record of your past tax returns on the Get Transcript page on IRS.gov. If you’re concerned someone has filed a federal return in your name, you can get transcripts for multiple years of returns.

Be Aware of Employment Related Identity Theft

It’s possible that your Social Security number may have been used by someone for employment purposes. There are several signs to watch for that might point to employment identity theft:

  • You receive a request for the verification of unreported income, payments or credits
  • You receive a notice asking to check your records to confirm the income you received
  • You receive a tax document like a W2 or Form 1099 for a job you don’t know of
  • You receive a Social Security notice saying that your benefits have been denied or adjusted because of wages you’re unaware of
  • The IRS sends you a CP01E Employment Related Theft Notice
  • The Social Security Administration sends you a notice stating that you received more income than you have actually earned that year

If you received any of these notices, it might be time to secure your personal information and see if there has been any effect on your tax accounts or tax liability.

You should order a transcript of your tax return the Get Transcript page on IRS.gov to see your tax account and verify that all the information contained is accurate. To get a transcript online, have your Social Security number, date of birth, filing status and the mailing address you used on your most recent tax return. You also need to have access to your own personal email account, a personal account number, such as that of a mortgage or home equity loan, and a mobile phone number that includes your name on the account. You can then view, print and download your transcript online quickly and easily.

If you do find inaccuracies, you then need to report these inaccuracies to the IRS and file an amended tax return. You can’t file an amended return online. You have to send it by postal mail.

If you’d rather not order your tax transcript online, you can order it through the mail. To do so, you need your Social Security number, date of birth and the mailing address listed on your most recent tax return. Once the IRS has your request, it takes 5 to 10 calendar days to receive your transcript.

What to Do If You Are a Victim of Tax Identity Theft

  1. Report the crime. File a report with your local police and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov or by calling the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338.
  2. Request a fraud alert. Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian or TransUnion—and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit records. Alternatively, you can request a credit freeze, which will stop any new credit accounts from being opened in your name. In the wake of the Equifax data breach, it’s free to put a freeze on your credit reports.
  3. Close fraudulent accounts. Close any credit or financial account that has been tampered with by a thief or opened without your permission.
  4. Contact the IRS. Call the number provided on any IRS notice informing you of the fraud. Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Print, then mail or fax the form to clear your tax record.
  5. Pay your taxes. Be sure to continue to pay your taxes and file your income tax return on time.
  6. Stay vigilant. If you contacted the IRS about taxpayer ID theft and didn’t get a resolution, contact the Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 about your case.

How to Fight Identity Theft

If you’re a victim of identity theft or want to avoid becoming one, there are several things you can do to protect your money and personal information. If you suspect identity theft, consider getting replacement debit and credit cards. You should also be suspicious of unsolicited emails, phone calls or even suspicious letters through regular mail.

Hackers and identity thieves may have fraudulently gained access to personal information, such as your address, phone number and email address, and be sending phishing emails as a way to gain more information from you. Be suspicious and don’t respond to anything that raises a red flag. If you have any reason to doubt an email, call the company and verify its validity before responding.

You should also be sure to regularly monitor your credit score. And be sure to check your credit reports from all three bureaus annually through AnnualCreditReport.com. Tax time is a great time to check your reports. It’s also a good time to start tracking your credit more regularly, with Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card and Experian credit score, which are updated every 14 days. Changes in your score can indicate identity theft quickly and alert you to take action.

This article was originally published January 23, 2015, and has since been updated by another author.


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  • Jimmy

    How can a person who has your social security number get a tax refund? To file the tax return you have to have all the correct personal information plus the W-2 or 1099 forms information which goes in with the return.

    • Dee Oldguy

      They use whatever data they want and match it to the SSN number. Bogus W2, etc.

    • Ken Dodge

      A W-2 form is provided to employees, that is, recipients/ earners of salary or wages. While a Forms-1099 are required to be provided to recipients of other forms of payments, they are not required, nor should they ever be attached to or filed with tax returns, as they are only intended for the recipient only.

  • http://www.ruat1.org Vince Ruta

    been there and done that – the thief used a 1040ez and the IRS is so far behind in examining returns and such it didn’t get caught until I tired to file for 2014 and none of the information I was using matched the info from the fraudulent 1040EZ …

    Bottom line is FILE AS EARLY AS YOU CAN

    – THE IRS COUNTS THE FIRST RETURN THEY RECEIVE AND IF ITS ON PAPER APARENTLY NOTHING GETS CROSS CHECKED ESPICALY WITH THE STANDARD FORMS LIKE THE 1040EZ

    • JK

      Did you eventually get your money? I may be headed down the same path. My return was just rejected because it they say another return was submitted using the same SSN.

      • http://www.ruat1.org Vince Ruta

        Turns out I actually I owe the IRS money – I had assumed a small refund was coming and had not bothered to generate the return for 13 – since there is no penalty for late filing if your getting a refund. So now I am doubly screwed. 2014 returns have to be via paper, and 2013 returns have to wait till the 2014 returns are process and the documentation the IRS has on file for 2013 has been received by me to generate a set of returns to be filed with the forms they have, the police report, and some sort of report from the Social Security Department. This also now means I have to file an identify theft report with all the credit reporting agencies and dig through all that crap. The IRS is doing their own investigation and will go after the perps if they can find them – but they will not provide any sort of information to me about what was processed or how much the claim / refund was for or where it was sent. The address and manner of filing has not changed more then 25 years but they never thought to question why my return suddenly went from married filing jointly from the same address, with the same banking information – to a single ez filer from a different address and different bank account and so on and so forth….. Just a royal Pain and still in the processes of dealing with all the fall out

        • Doreen

          I just went through the same crap. I’ve been filing a joint return with my husband (same last name) since 1987. I got the IRS Letter 5071C telling me they received my 2014 Form 1040 but could not process it until they heard from me. The dumb (idverify.irs.gov) website was useless; it took me HOURS to get through to the IRS Service Center. Then I spent an hour on the phone verifying my personal info and getting details on all the steps I need to take to report the fraud (contact police, SSA, FTC, credit bureaus). Luckily I had filed my 2013 taxes and the slime ball who stole my identity didn’t have any of that info. I am angry over the whole situation because the IRS won’t tell you anything about where the bogus filing originated, the refund amount, etc. And yes, the irony is that this is the first time ever that we actually owe the IRS. It sucks to be me!

  • Simone

    I am concern and want some guidance. I have a friend who held a party where she sells beauty and health stuff. I had to pay 50 to be a member and then would get things at whole sale price. I am concern because I had to for this membership and give my social security number. I didn’t sign anything or did I get a copy of this. Later, she texted an email account and password. I since changed my password but it just does not sit well with me. I asked her for a copy of this and so far she been busy or avoiding me.
    Any comments appreciated

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      She may have obtained your SSN to sign up as a distributor but it is disconcerting that she won’t respond to your requests and I think you are right to be concerned. Do you have the name of the company you joined? Have you tried to contact their corporate office?

  • Greyreader

    The one thing everyone 65 and older don’t realize is that the morons in our government who run Medicare use your Social Security number on the Medicare card. Don’t carry it in your wallet or on your person unless you’re going to the doctor.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Hopefully, that’s about to change, but you’re right. For now, don’t keep it in your wallet. We’ve seen suggestions that you take the real one for an initial visit, then copy it, block out (or cut out) the number on the copied version, and let THAT be the one you carry. Here’s a post about changes to come:

      Will Social Security Numbers Finally Be Taken Off Medicare Cards?

      • Elena63

        I saw that article & being new to Medicare (and appalled that my SSN is on the Medicare card), I called Medicare to request a new card without my SSN. They pretty much told me to take a hike.

        Prior to becoming Medicare eligible, I refused to give out my SSN to all medical facilities, pointing out that all the information they needed was on the card furnished by my employer-sponsored insurance carrier. I had been previously burned by a major NYC hospital where the intake clerks were stealing SSNs. Most of the time, the medical facility or doctor’s office would back off from making me give them my SSN.

        Now, my primary insurance carrier is Medicare & I’m stuck with a card that displays my SSN in BIG BOLD PRINT. Medicare won’t issue me a new card based on a telephone request. They said I’d have to wait until they get around to generating the new ones which means I might have to wait up to four years.

        I’ve always preferred carrying my proof of insurance with me in case I get into an accident or a situation where I can’t speak for myself. I like the idea of making a copy of the card & redacting the SSN. If the hospital doesn’t like it, they can just treat me the same way they treat illegals in this country. No insurance card? No problem!


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