Although scam artists are working year-round to steal your identify and compromise your personal information, tax season seems to bring out the worst. Scammers are looking to steal tax documents, file fraudulent returns in victims’ names, and extort payment with false threats of IRS action due to outstanding tax bills.
The Center for Internet Security offers some quick tips to help you avoid becoming a victim:
- File your taxes as early as you can. By filing your taxes early, scammers aiming to use your personal information to file a fraudulent return in your name will be unable to do so. They can’t file if you beat them to it.
- Never click a link in an email notifying you of available tax documents. Always go to your browser and type in your company’s online W-2 or tax document retrieval service URL to avoid many common phishing scams. This will ensure you go to the right website and get your documents safely.
- Avoid IRS impersonation scams. The IRS will never contact you over the phone or email to ask for payment of an overdue tax bill. Criminals frequently make such calls and can request payment by normal means or by prepaid gift cards, and any contact like this should be ignored.
The IRS warns taxpayers to be on the lookout for tax-related scams. One version involves robocalls threatening to suspend or cancel your Social Security number if you don’t pay an unpaid tax bill.
If you get a call like this, just hang up. The IRS and its authorized private collection agencies will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, iTunes gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments.
- Ask a taxpayer to make a payment to a person or organization other than the U.S. Treasury.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demand taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
Tax-related identity theft occurs when a thief uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund. You may not you’re a victim until:
- the IRS sends you a letter by mail saying they have gotten a suspicious tax return that uses your SSN, or
- you try to electronically file your return but it’s rejected as a duplicate because a return already has been filed using your SSN
If the IRS sends you a letter, follow the instructions in the letter. Then visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the identity theft to both the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and get a recovery plan.
Remember that IRS notices about tax-related identity theft are sent by mail. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with a taxpayer by sending an email, text, or social media message that asks for personal or financial information. The IRS also does not call taxpayers with threats of lawsuits or arrest, and it will never ask you to wire money, pay with a gift card or prepaid debit card, or share your credit card information over the phone.
If you get an email, text, or other electronic message that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to email@example.com, and report IRS imposters to the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at tigta.gov.
Dealing With Tax-Related Identity Theft
If the IRS sends you a notice or letter saying that someone used your SSN to get a tax refund, or saying there’s another problem, respond quickly and follow the instructions in the letter.
Call the IRS using the telephone number given in the letter. You’ll need the letter and a copy of your prior year’s tax return when you call to help verify your identity.
If you think someone used your SSN to file for a tax refund, but you haven’t gotten a letter from the IRS, use IdentityTheft.gov to report it to the IRS and FTC and get a recovery plan. You can complete an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit Form at that site and submit it to the IRS online so that the IRS can begin resolving your case. You’ll also be reporting the identity theft to the FTC.
Go ahead and file your tax return and pay any taxes you owe. If you can’t electronically file your tax return, you may need to mail a paper return.
Next, it’s important to limit the potential damage from identity theft.
Put a fraud alert on your credit reports.
Order your free credit reports and close any new accounts opened in your name.
Consider placing a credit freeze on your credit reports.
For more information, visit IRS Identity Theft Victim Assistance: How It Works.