Tax Time: Don’t Let an Identity Thief Get Your Refund

Tax Time: Don’t Let an Identity Thief Get Your Refund

Some people dread tax time: the hassle of filing or the possibility of facing a bill to pay is no fun. Some people look forward to tax time: those who are expecting a refund that will help pay for their summer vacation or home improvement project.

But, you know who really loves tax season? Identity thieves. This is because during tax season, personal and financial information is more plentiful and easier than ever for thieves to intercept and secure. In fact, the IRS reports the number of criminal investigations into identity theft cases more than tripled in fiscal year 2012 over 2011.

While identity theft isn’t 100% avoidable, there are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself from falling victim to identity theft during tax time.  We've compiled a list of questions below that, depending how you answer, can reduce your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft. See how you did this tax season:


·        Did you choose a trustworthy tax preparer? – Tax preparers seem to be everywhere this time of year. Be wary of pop-up tax advertisements. A dishonest preparer can easily redirect your tax refund, or worse, take advantage of your personal information and compromise your credit report and score. Do a little research up front by checking out your tax preparer with the Better Business Bureau. Don’t choose tax preparers that charge a percentage of your return as a fee or refuse to quote you an exact fee up front. Lastly, never sign a blank return and always review your completed return before singing it.

·        Did you protect sensitive documents? Think of all the personal information in the financial documents used in tax filing, like your W-2s and interest statements.  In January, did you watch your mailbox for these and ensure they didn't sit in your mailbox longer than necessary? Did you leave these documents out and unsecure, like on your desk at work, in your purse or on your kitchen table. If you filed your taxes by mail, did you drop off your return directly at your post office instead of leaving it your mailbox?

·        Did you keep your Social Security card safe?  Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse where it could be stolen. If stolen, thieves could use your Social Security number to steal your refund or open up lines of credit in your name (and possibly ruin your credit score.) Keep your Social Security card locked up at home.

·        Did you protect your information online?  The IRS does not contact people by email or social media (or by phone or text). If you receive any electronic messages claiming to be from the IRS, they are likely fraudulent. Forward them to phishing@irs.gov. If you are filing online, always use difficult passwords and a secure network to complete your return.
 
You may be a victim of identity theft if you receive a notification from the IRS that states their records show that more than one tax return was filed for you, or you received wages from an employer you don't recognize. If you receive such a letter, contact the IRS’ Identity Protection Specialized Unit immediately at 1-800-908-4490. 

So now that you’ve filed your taxes (or at least filed for an extension), and are hopefully getting a refund, take a little bit of time to ensure your personal information is safe and secure.