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The New Year is time for fresh starts; New Year’s resolutions like eating better, dieting and even being more financially responsible. It’s also the beginning of tax season. So, while you may already be shirking your new workout schedule, the one thing you shouldn’t avoid is checking your mailbox (snail or electronic, depending on your company) for your W-2s, 1099s and other tax related documents.
It’s important to be on the lookout for your tax forms mainly because other people are also on the lookout for them. Not their own, but yours, your neighbors’, or anyone else they would potentially steal information from in order to create fraudulent tax returns.
Tax-related identity theft is one of the top types of ID theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission each year. The number is even higher for those submitting fraud reports to the Internal Revenue Service (the agency that handles taxes).
The IRS has been closely monitoring tax-related identity theft since 2015. Here is some of its most recent data:
Tax ID thieves have gotten quite sophisticated. You might get a call, and your caller ID will actually say it’s the IRS. Not only that, the caller might give a phony badge number but know the real last four digits of your Social Security number.
The caller will urge you to pay immediately to avoid further penalties or get arrested. Needless to say, the IRS doesn’t make phone calls threatening to drag you off in handcuffs in the next few hours. The caller will insist you wire them the cash or put it on a prepaid debit card. If you do so, your money is gone.
There are different ways of becoming a victim of tax-related ID theft. Here are the three most common:
Personal tax ID theft happens when someone has stolen your personal information in order to file a fraudulent return. This happens if someone uses your Social Security number for employment or they used the information from your W-2 to file income tax returns on your behalf and take your tax refund.
This type of ID theft happens when fraudsters break into the secure systems of actual tax preparers and online tax preparing systems. This route gives them access to much more information than just one single person, making it a much larger tax-related fraud scheme. For tax-preparing software and systems, a fraudster could potentially just break into an individual’s account from a weak password.
This obviously targets small businesses and their employees. With the EIN number of a small business, identity thieves can not only file a fraudulent return for the business itself, but it can also create fake employees using stolen Social Security numbers and file tax returns through those. Lastly, if there is enough information available, they could even steal the information of the employees.
Most Americans aren’t concerned about tax fraud. That could be because they don’t know they are putting themselves at high risk though. One-third of Americans use two-factor authentication with their tax preparers. That means the rest of us stay with our password-only option. These aren’t actually protecting us. Scammers pick up our passwords easily, making our information more vulnerable.
The early bird may get the worm and the tax refund check sooner. They’re also saving themselves a huge headache. More than half of consumers will file in late March and into April. This is when tax scammers are spending the most time hunting for and stealing personal information. Not to mention their refunds.
Unfortunately, another big offender is ignorance. Half of all American taxpayers who use a preparation service aren’t sure how to evaluate them. Choosing a preparer blindly opens up a host of scamming opportunities. Whether you’re using an in-person service or an online tool, if you haven’t taken the steps to make sure they are authenticated and a real service, you may be handing your personal information (and your well-deserved refund!) over to scammers.
You likely won’t know your identity has been stolen for tax-related purposes until you file your income tax returns. Some signs you have been a target are that you received income from another employer that you did not work for, that another tax return was already filed using your SSN, or that you owe additional taxes for a year you haven’t filed taxes. The IRS may also send you a letter stating it has received a suspicious return using your Social Security number.
If you think you may have been a victim of tax fraud, the tricky part is that you still need to file a return. Hopefully, the IRS Taxpayer Protection Program will discover the fraud first and send you a notice in the mail. It is usually called Letter 4883C. If you receive a note like this, make sure to respond to the IRS promptly with the number provided in the letter so that you can verify your identity. If they don’t notice first and you find out when you try e-filing your return and are rejected, you will need to complete the IRS Identity Theft Form Affidavit, Form 14039, and submit a paper tax return instead.
For anyone who thinks they’ve been a victim of tax identity theft:
Due to the government shutdown, we are unable to offer this website service at this time. Information about identity theft can be found on the FTC’s website at: Identity Theft | Consumer Information
We will resume normal operations when the government is funded.
If there is a prolonged shutdown, it could definitely impact how long your refund might take. It also means that the IRS won’t be available to answer any questions you might have when filing.
What makes a case more complex? IRS investigators look at multiple variables to see how involved your case might be. Is the fraud just for this tax year or multiple years? Does it affect just your Social Security number or multiple individuals who may or may not be related? These all impact how long a case might be open.
If you are a victim of tax identity fraud, the one good thing to know is that the IRS is on your side. Hang in there and it’ll eventually get resolved and hopefully, you will be set up so that you will avoid anything like this in future filing years.
In 2017, the IRS received 242,000 reports from taxpayers reporting themselves as identity theft victims. Although the overall number fell by 40 percent from 2016, the loss to the American taxpayer is still in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The IRS advises taxpayers and tax professionals to remain vigilant to the various scams and schemes used by data thieves. The IRS has published a yearly list of their “Dirty Dozen” tax scams and what you can do to help protect yourself.
If you know you are or think you may be a victim you can contact Community Tax and they can assist you in requesting an IRS Investigation.
You can also visit www.freeirsreport.com – this service allows you to receive a confidential IRS tax report that will contain a complimentary analysis and review from a licensed tax practitioner of your tax return filings. It can flag any areas of concern which include potential identity theft.
Article last modified on May 13, 2019. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: - AMP.