Tax ID Theft: Protect Yourself
Although the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has stepped up efforts to spot fraudulent tax returns filed by thieves, expect an explosion in tax identity theft – and know that the burden falls on you to protect yourself.
According to a recent National Taxpayer Advocate report to Congress, tax-related ID theft has increased 650% since 2008 (Dailyfinance.com Jan. 25). About 940,000 tax returns were filed fraudulently during the 2011 tax year, and the number is expected to reach one million for the 2012 tax year. The sudden boom has caught filers and tax experts off guard. Scammers hope to beat you to the punch and file before you do. They steal year-end statements, W-2s and other documents containing personal information to file a return in your name. Their preferred method of receiving your refund is prepaid cardsbecause they're just like cash.
Be on the lookout for any suspicious activity and know the warning signs to avoid becoming a victim:
- Monitor the mail. Have you received your W-2, 1099, and other tax forms? Follow up with the financial institution if you haven't received the forms and ask when they were mailed. If you suspect fraud, call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, ext. 245.
- Ignore IRS emails, texts. The IRS does not use e-mails or texts to contact you, so don't respond. If you click on an attachment that claims to be from the IRS, it may contain a virus or take you to a fraudulent site. Forward suspicious e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Watch for pop-ups. When filing taxes online, be suspicious of out-of-place pop-ups or a slow-running computer.
- Secure your refund. Choose direct deposit to avoid lost or stolen checks.
- Send your return safely. File online if you can. If you file by mail, never put your return in an unsecured mailbox, an office mailbox, or outgoing mail bin at work. The envelope says "tax return" and can easily be snatched. Take the return directly to the post office and use certified mail.
- Choose preparers carefully. Scammers may pose as tax-preparation companies offering to review your return for errors, but instead they steal your information and your refund. Verify the status of the preparer's license with the Better Business Bureau and the IRS. Don't sign your return if the preparer didn't sign it, or if the return is incomplete.
For more information, read these articles on the Credit union National Association (CUNA) web site:
Tax ID Theft: One Million Fraudulent Returns Expected
ID Fraud Claims 126 Million Victims In 2012