During Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week (January 13 - 17), Better Business Bureau serving Greater Maryland encouragestaxpayers to carefully protect social security numbers when filing for a tax refund.
Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your social security number to get a tax refund or job. According to a recent Treasury Inspector General Report, the Internal Revenue Service paid billions of dollars in fraudulent tax refunds to individuals who used a stolen social security number to complete a claim in 2012.
"Your social security number is a gold mine for fraudsters. They may file for a tax refund, apply for a loan and even commit a crime, using your name," said Angie Barnett, president/CEO, BBB | Greater Maryland. "While many institutions, such as your bank, may need your social security number, always remain wary of who is requesting it, why they need it and how your information will be safeguarded."
Unfortunately, many tax identity theft victims don't discover that their social security number has been stolen until they file their taxes. Then, it often takes several months before victims receive their rightfully owned tax refund. Be alert and contact the IRS immediately, if you receive a notice from the agency that states:
- More than one tax return for you was filed,
- You have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return, or
- IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you.
According to BBB Accredited, EZ Shield
, identity thieves often scour mailboxes towards the end of January, looking to steal W-2 forms. The fraud protection company encourages taxpayers to request that employers hand out W-2 forms in person instead of by mail.
BBB also advises individuals to look out for crooked tax preparers during this time of year. BBB | Greater Maryland received 26 complaints against tax preparation services in 2013. Some complainants alleged that the preparer filed their tax return without permission or demanded high fees to obtain the refund. In other complaints, individuals alleged paying for services they never received.
"It's absolutely critical, that you do your research and choose a trustworthy and reputable tax preparer. After all, he or she will handle some of your most private information." added Barnett.
To prevent tax identity theft, BBB and the FTC offer the following tips:
- File your tax return early in the tax season, if you can.
- Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return directly from the post office.
- Shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets you no longer need.
- Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.
- Know the IRS won't contact you by email, text, or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will contact you by mail.
- Don't give out your Social Security number (SSN) unless necessary.
- Research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information. BBB Business Reviews provides information on tax preparers' licensing information, complaint history, BBB rating and more.
- Check your credit report at least once a year for free atannualcreditreport.com to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.
If you think you've become a victim of tax identity theft:
- Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit immediately at 1-800-908-4490. According to the Federal Trade Commission, specialists will work with you to get your tax return filed, get you any refund you are due, and protect your IRS account from identity thieves in the future.
- Ask one of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) to place an initial fraud alert on your credit report. This makes it harder for fraudsters to open any accounts in your name.
- Create an identity theft report by filing a complaint with the FTC and filing a local police report. Together, this will help you to get fraudulent information removed from your credit report and to stop companies from collecting debt that an identity thief created.