Tax season is here, and that means opportunities for identity thieves to steal your personal information are at their greatest. Identity theft can happen any time of year, but during tax filing season, tax identity theft is especially common.
Learn how to reduce your risk of becoming a victim during Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, January 28 – February 1, 2019. This annual campaign aims to help consumers be more informed about protecting themselves from tax-related identity theft and scams.
Tax identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number (SSN) and other personally identifiable information (PII) to file a tax refund or get a job.
Tax scams are among the most common types of scams reported to the Better Business Bureau with over 3,200 nationwide tax collection scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2018 alone. Scammers will pose as an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent and try to trick you into either giving up money or sharing personal information. These scams most often start with a phone call from someone who says you owe back taxes or that your identity has already been compromised. The scammer will often use threats and high-pressure tactics to convince you to pay with a prepaid debit card or wire transfer to avoid arrest and hefty fines.
These imposters will go to great lengths to appear legitimate. The scammer may give a fake badge number and name and follow up the scam call with an email, which uses the real IRS logo, colors and official-sounding language. In many instances, these scams start with a serious and official sounding “robocall” recording that may look as if it is coming from Washington, D.C. on your Caller ID.
Keep in mind, the IRS does not call you; instead, if you’re in violation they will mail a letter to let you know. Additionally, the IRS will not initiate contact with you by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.
The IRS wants taxpayers to know the warning signs. Be alert to possible tax-related identity theft if you are contacted by the IRS about:
- More than one tax return being 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 indicating you received wages or other income from an employer for whom you did not work
To ensure you are protecting your information, the Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to help prevent tax identity theft:
- Complete your return as soon as you can. Scammers usually file fast so they can beat the real taxpayer and get the refund. The sooner you file, the less likely a scammer can be successful filing a fake return in your name.
- Identify fake communications. The IRS always sends written communications first, so if you receive a call or email before an official letter, it’s probably from a scammer. Be especially cautious of anyone who threatens you or claims you must act immediately. The IRS will not do that.
- Protect your privacy. Online accessibility means you’re your personal information can be compromised by a data breach, so take precautions. Understand why you are being asked for your personal information and ask questions about why it is needed and how it will be used.
- Keep your computer up-to-date. Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protection. Run software updates and virus checks regularly to keep your computer’s security up to date. Use strong passwords.
- Protect your personal information. Never give personal information to unsolicited callers. This includes your Social Security number, credit card information and login information to any relevant accounts. Also, avoid routinely carrying your Social Security card, and make sure your tax records are secure.