Imagine the shock of filing your federal or state taxes and being told that someone else has staked a claim to your refund and your identity.
As Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week concludes, Americans are being warned that just such an occurrence is increasingly common. The Federal Trade Commission, Internal Revenue Service and Better Business Bureau are using this time to increase public awareness about ID theft related to taxes.
The most common form of identity theft reported to the FTC is tax identity theft. In 2013 the IRS initiated 1,492 investigations of the crime, a 66 percent rise from 2012. They have hired new staff, have employed new technologies and are using new procedures to thwart these criminals.
Even so, it can take between six months and several years for the IRS to clear up such a case. That adds up to a very long headache for the victimized taxpayer.
Learning you are a victim
For most victims, the first time they hear that they have been ripped off is when a letter comes back from the IRS after legitimate taxes have been filed. The letter will be notification that more than one return has been filed using your Social Security number, or that you earned wages from an unknown employer.
Generally the latter means someone stole and used your Social Security number to get a job.
In other words, someone beat you to the punch and filed taxes with your number before you had a chance to. The IRS computers then kicked out your legitimate filing because it appeared to be a duplicate.
The thief simply made up income numbers, hoping it would get through the filing process without being detected.
Yes, you will probably get your refund eventually, but know that it will take months at the very least.
Reduce your chances of becoming a victim by taking these steps:
• File as early as possible. As stated above, it can be a race between you and an identity theft. Get there first.
• If filing electronically, be absolutely sure your Internet connection is secure. Always check your firewalls and anti-virus software to be sure they are up to date.
• If filing by mail, consider mailing your form from the post office, not from your home mailbox.
• Shred unneeded copies of your return, rough drafts or calculation sheets used.
• Respond to IRS mail as soon as you can.
• Be aware that no communication from the IRS by e-mail, text or social media is legitimate. The IRS only contacts people by mail.
• Never give out your Social Security number unless absolutely necessary, especially over the phone or in an e-mail, unless you have initiated the contact yourself.
• Research a tax preparer before using them.
• Check your credit report at least once a year.
If you have reason to believe your identity has been stolen or compromised, contact the IRS ID Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. Find more information on taxpayer identity theft by visiting the FTC website.