January 24 – 30, 2016 is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week and your BBB® brings you news about this important week. Tax identity theft occurs when someone files a phony tax return using your personal information to obtain a fraudulent refund or uses your Social Security number (SSN) to get a job or claims your child on a tax return. Tax-related identity theft was the most common form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2014 (the latest year for these statistics) for the fifth consecutive year, and the number of complaints from consumers about criminals impersonating IRS officials was nearly 24 times more than in 2013, according to FTC statistics.
Here are some of the ways identity thieves can get your personal information:
*going through your trash or stealing your mail,
*sending a phony email that looks like it’s from the IRS,
*stealing records at a hospital, bank, nursing home, place of employment, etc.,
*phony or dishonest tax preparer stealing your SSN or selling it to identity thieves.
These tips from the FTC and the BBB will help you protect yourself:
*file your tax return early before the identity thieves do
*if you e-file, protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for Internet accounts
*don’t use unsecure, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots at places like coffee shops or a hotel lobby
*shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets you don’t need
*if you don’t e-file, mail your tax return directly at the post office
*respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible
*know that the IRS won’t contact you by email, text, or social media; it will first contact you by mail
*don’t give out your SSN or Medicare number unless necessary and don’t carry them with you. Ask why it’s needed, how it’s going to be used, and how it will be stored
*if you think someone used your SSN for a tax refund,
-contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 1.800.908.4490 immediately,
-file a police report or an IRS ID Theft Affidavit Form 14039 (pdf);
-keep a record of dates you made calls or sent letters, and keep copies of all paperwork and emails;
-consider putting a fraud alert on your credit report,
*check your credit report at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com or 1.877.322.8228 to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.
*check out a tax preparer with your BBB at bbb.org/evansville or 812.473.0202 before sharing financial and personal information with the business or individual preparer.
In addition to thieves filing a fraudulent tax return in your name, there is another fast-growing tax-related scam called the IRS Imposter Scam. In this scam, the thieves pretend to be IRS officials. They call or email you and tell you that you owe unpaid taxes and tell you to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the number on the back of the card. They threaten a consumer with arrest, deportation, revocation of a license, shutting down an owner’s business, or filing a lawsuit against the consumer. Once you tell them the number on the back of the prepaid card, your money is gone with no way to trace it.
According to the IRS, they will never initially contact you by phone or email. If you get an email claiming to be the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the IRS at 1.800.908.4490.
For more information you can trust, visit bbb.org/evansville.