5 Ways to Prevent Tax-Related Identity Theft

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.

The IRS uses Social Security numbers to ensure that your filing is complete. Identity thieves can also use your Social Security number to apply for jobs and to file for your refund. An unexpected notice or letter from the IRS could alert you that someone else is using your Social Security number, however, the IRS doesn’t start contact with a taxpayer by sending an email, text or social media message that asks for personal or financial information. If you get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

If someone uses your Social Security number to file for a tax refund before you do, the IRS might think you already filed and got your refund. When you file your return later, IRS records will show the first filing and refund, and you’ll get a notice or letter from the IRS saying more than one return was filed for you.

If someone uses your Social Security number to get a job, the employer may report that person’s income to the IRS using your Social Security number. When you file your tax return, you won’t include those earnings. IRS records will show you failed to report all your income. The agency will send you a notice or letter saying you got wages but didn’t report them. The IRS doesn’t know those wages were reported by an employer you don’t know.

  1. Know your tax preparer.
  2. Mail your tax returns early in the season.  An early filing increases the chances that you will file before anyone stealing your identity has the chance to do so.
  3. Mail tax returns from a Post Office. Do not put them in your mailbox.
  4. Use a secure network when filing electronically. Do not file from a public place such as a library or on an open Wi-Fi network.
  5. Store copies of your returns securely and shred any drafts.
Protect your personal identity as if it were jewelry or cash.  Do not carry your Social Security card with you. AARP suggests that you also photocopy your Medicare card and cut it down to wallet size. Then remove or cut out the last four digits of the SSN and carry the remaining photocopy with you rather than the actual card. But you’ll need your original Medicare card with you the first time you visit a health care provider, who will likely want to make a photocopy of it for their files.

Visit identitytheft.gov to report and recover from identity theft.

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