The 2016 fight against identity theft is the strongest it has ever been. The Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the private-sector tax industry are working together to keep identity thieves from stealing your federal and state tax accounts for their personal gain.
But, there’s one more party needed: you. That may surprise you, but the fact is that all hands on deck are needed for this mission to stop as much identity theft as humanly possible.
Under the “Taxes. Security. Together.” campaign, public and private sectors are partnering with taxpayers to protect their personal, tax and financial data online and at home. In asking for your help, the professionals hope to have as few victims as possible, who fall prey to cybercriminals deceiving them into giving up their Social Security numbers, account numbers or password information.
To better protect yourself, the IRS issued a series of Security Awareness Tax Tips, as well as Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers, for a reference guide. Here are several basic measures you can take to protect your personal information:
- Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Make sure the security software is always turned on and can automatically update. Encrypt sensitive files such as tax records you store on your computer. Use strong passwords.
- Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations, such as your bank, credit card companies and even the IRS. Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
- Protect your personal data. Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card, and make sure your tax records are secure. Treat your personal information like you do your cash; don’t leave it lying around.
Know the Warning Signs
Hopefully, identity theft never strikes you personally, but it’s to the point where everyone must know about the warning signs. Whether it’s a notice from the IRS or your tax professional, the following are some common warning signs of potential tax-related identity theft:
- More than one tax return was filed for you.
- You owe additional tax, have a refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
- IRS records indicate you received more wages than you actually earned.
- Your state or federal benefits were reduced or cancelled because the agency received information reporting an income change.
Steps for Victims of Tax-Related Identity Theft
We know that victims are very scared and the process can be complex, but those who have had their identity stolen must act quickly and decisively to get their lives back as soon as possible.
First, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at Identitytheft.gov. Then, contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a “fraud alert’ on your account: Equifax at 888-766-0008, Experian at 888-397-3742 or TransUnion at 800-680-7289. Finally, close any financial or credit accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
If your Social Security Number (SSN) has been compromised and you know or suspect you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft, take these additional steps:
- Respond immediately to any IRS notice. Call the number provided or, if directed, visit IDVerify.irs.gov.
- Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, if your e-filed return was rejected by a duplicate return was filed using your SSN.
- Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.
- If you previously contacted the IRS and did not have a resolution, contact the IRS for specialized assistance at 1-800-908-4490. They have teams available to assist.
The IRS has made great strides in reducing the amount of time it takes to resolve identity theft cases, but keep in mind that they can still be complex and time consuming. That’s why it is so important for you to follow the steps in this article, and act quickly and decisively if it seems your identity has been stolen or compromised. For more resources, check out this information on identity protection, the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft and Publication 5027 on Identity Theft Information for Taxpayers.
With your help and knowledge, we can continue to increase the effort towards reducing the amount of identity theft.