(BPT) - You know the feeling. You’ve slogged through the paperwork, collected your receipts, filled out the forms, transferred the totals from line to line and figured out the size of your refund, or how much you owe. You drop your tax forms in the mail or submit them online, and you can finally exclaim “My taxes are done!”
At least, it’s over for most people. But for a growing number of Americans, the tax nightmare is just beginning. These people will not receive a refund or pay for taxes due, because in the eyes of the IRS, they’ve already filed a return. Except, they haven’t – an identity thief has.
In 2012, 1.2 million people were the victims of tax identity theft and another 1.6 million were victims in the first half of 2013, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Someone who knows your Social Security number can fill out a tax return, fake your income and tax withholding, and have a refund sent to a debit card. Most refunds are issued quickly, and you won’t know about it until you try to file and get a rejection notice. According to news reports, this even happened to Attorney General Eric Holder this year.
If there’s any good news about this situation, it’s that tax fraud has become so big that the IRS has thousands of people working to investigate and help protect against it. If you do become a victim, there’s an IRS form to fill out – Form 14039 – and a special team you can reach at 800-908-4490, extension 245, that will help you resolve the problem.
Once you’ve become a victim, the IRS will give you a code each year that has to appear on your tax form for it to be accepted.
But for those who have not been victimized, the experts at LifeLock, the identity protection service, suggest a few things you can do to help reduce the chance that you may be the next person to get that dreaded rejection notice.
Protect your Social Security number: Don’t carry your Social Security card with you, and don’t give out the number any more than absolutely necessary. If you’re asked to provide it on a form, ask the company why they need it and whether you really have to share it, because often it’s optional.
Shred personal documents: Use a quality “cross-cut” shredder to destroy old tax forms, monthly financial statements and other documents that include your personal information. Or switch to online delivery, so that those documents never end up in places where they can be stolen, like your mailbox or recycling bin.
Don’t wait until April 15: File as soon as you can, so that your return gets to the IRS before any fraudulent ones.
Do your taxes in a secure location: It’s wonderfully convenient to work from coffee shops, but when you’re handling sensitive information like your taxes, make sure you’re on a secure network where it’s harder for thieves to capture the information you’re sending back and forth.
Don’t fall for scams: If someone calls or emails asking for personal information, don’t provide it. The IRS says they only request information by mail, so if you get an email or text message that appears to be from them asking you to send back your personal details, it’s probably fraudulent.
LifeLock offers more information about tax fraud and other forms of identity theft at LifeLock.com/education, and the Federal Trade Commission has more information at www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/protecting-your-identity.