Protect against identity theft

Identity theft happens when someone steals personal information for financial gain. Tax-related identity theft happens when someone uses another person’s stolen Social Security number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN) to file a tax return to obtain a fraudulent refund.

Many people realize they are victims of identity theft when they submit their tax returns and the Internal Revenue Service lets them know someone else already used their SSN to file a return.

The IRS has stopped millions of dollars from getting into the hands of thieves. To protect against identity theft, the agency launched “The Taxes. Security. Together.” awareness campaign in 2015 to inform people about ways to protect their personal, tax and financial data. For example, don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse and only provide your Social Security number if it’s necessary. Protect personal information at home and protect personal computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for online accounts.

Remember, criminals often try to impersonate banks, credit card companies and even the IRS hoping to steal personal data. Learn to recognize and avoid fake communications. Also, the IRS will not call a taxpayer threatening a lawsuit, arrest or to demand immediate payment. Beware of threatening phone calls from someone claiming to be from the IRS.

Here’s what taxpayers should do if they cannot e-file their return because someone already filed using their SSN:

• File a tax return by paper and pay any taxes owed;

• File an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. Include it with the paper tax return and/or attach a police report describing the theft if available;

• File a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant;

• Contact the Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov and type in “identity theft” in the search box;

• Contact financial institutions to report the alleged identity theft;

• Contact one of the three credit bureaus so a fraud alert or credit freeze can be placed on the affected account;

• Check with the applicable state tax agency to see if there are additional steps to take at the state level.

If the IRS identifies a suspicious tax return with a taxpayer’s stolen SSN, that taxpayer could receive a letter asking him or to her confirm identity by calling a special number or visiting an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.

If a taxpayer is a confirmed ID theft victim, the IRS might issue the individual an IP PIN – a unique, six-digit number a taxpayer uses to e-file the tax return. Each year, the taxpayer will receive an IRS letter with a new IP PIN.

If taxpayers suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud, they can visit IRS.gov and follow the chart on How to Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity.

Information about tax-related identity theft is available online. The IRS has a special section on IRS.gov devoted to identity theft and information for victims to obtain assistance.

For more information, see the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.

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