Safeguard your tax returns from identity theft
In times past, tax filers only worried about the amount of taxes they actually had to pay. Today, however, they also worry that their tax returns will be rejected. They worry, not because they filed wrongly, but because they might have been victimized by an identity thief who filed a fraudulent return under their name.
The number of cases of theft relating to tax returns is increasing at an alarming rate. What’s even more disturbing is that some victims are those who are going out of their way to protect their identities. This just goes to prove that no one is really invincible when it comes to identity theft—thieves can, and will, victimize anyone. People may be extremely careful about protecting their identities, but there are some instances when personal information is necessary and must be provided. For instance, this information is required by employers, schools, and financial institutions. If a thief gains access to those databases, then no matter how hard you tried to protect yourself, you are still at risk of being a victim.
Other methods that thieves use to swindle tax payers are through the use of email or the telephone. They send out emails stating they are from a bank and ask you to provide your credit information or they call you and pretend to be bank representatives asking you to provide them with your social security number. Then, there are thieves who steal mail from mailboxes and go through garbage bins looking for credit card offers. However, since more and more people are growing aware of these schemes, the crooks have resorted to filing fraudulent tax returns. The taxpayer will never realize that he or she has become a victim until his or her tax return is rejected.
Many people who have been victimized by fraudulent tax returns wonder where the thieves got their information, especially when they had been extremely careful about protecting their identities. Thieves may get their social security lists from health care facilities, including nursing homes, hospices, and rehabilitation centers. Some people may have fallen for the telephone calls made by fake representatives and gave out their social security numbers, while there are some thieves who might hack into a company’s database to steal employee information.
It is important that you familiarize yourself with the ways thieves may obtain your information. But to further protect your identity during tax season consider the following tips:
• Be prepared- When you file your tax returns and the IRS notifies you that a tax return has already been filed under your name, this may be a sign of identity theft. Another sign is when the IRS informs you of earnings from an employer with whom you never had any business. You may have lost your identification and didn’t notice it, made an online transaction using your credit card, etc. When any of these things happen, you may be at risk of identity theft. Remember, identity theft strikes unexpectedly, so it is important that you are prepared for it. Keep on hand the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit’s number, which is 800-908-4490 and call them immediately should you discover a false tax return has been filed in your name.
• Never sign blank tax returns- Some people do their tax returns themselves but there are others who hire the services of tax preparers. If you do the latter, make sure that you know the tax preparer, personally, or make sure that he or she has been referred to you by a person you trust. If you come across a tax preparer who asks you to sign a blank return, turn the other away.
• Never use public Wi-Fi when filing tax returns- When filing your tax returns online, make sure that you do so using your own private network. Never file your tax returns using the free public Wi-Fi usually offered at coffee shops, hotels, and malls.
• Delete images of the W-2 Form- If you are making use of a tax app which requires you to take a photo of the W-2 form, make sure that you delete the image afterwards. Some apps store images on their servers and if a thief gets access to their servers then you will be at risk of identity theft.
• Secure your tax returns and other tax-related documents- Never leave your tax returns or other tax-related documents inside your car, on your kitchen counter, on your office desk, etc.
• Check your Social Security earnings- Make an effort to check your social security statement every year and check your earnings. If the earnings seem off and do not correspond with your income, make sure to contact the Social Security Administration immediately and raise your concerns. In addition, it would also help to get your credit scores and check them regularly. Doing so will help you be familiar with your scores, so if you see any unusual changes, you can take this as a sign of possible identity theft and immediately take necessary measures to correct the problem.
Identity theft, as well as the filing of fraudulent tax returns, is becoming a big problem these days. Since no one is really invincible from this form of theft, the best thing you can do to protect your tax returns from identity theft is to check on your statements including credit reports, credit scores, and social security on a regular basis. In this way, if you see unusual changes, you can immediately raise your concerns with the appropriate authorities. This will help you to contain, if not totally eliminate, the situation.