• Mike Komara

Tax Scams Impacting Individual's Identity

Tax season is fraught with identity theft scams via phone, text, email, and even postal mail. Thieves pose as the IRS on these media to trick individuals into giving up personal information that enables them to steal their identity. More than 59 million Americans have lost money due to phone scams in the past 12 months. Everyone with a Social Security number is potentially at risk for identity theft, but scammers target seniors more often than other adults. Here are some ways to avoid identity theft tax scams.

Nine Ways to Safeguard Your Identity

Store your tax documents securely.

Protect your W2s, 1099s, and other tax documents by keeping them in a safe place. You should have received all these documents in January either by mail or digitally. If you don't receive a document, contact the organization to determine when it was mailed to ensure it wasn't stolen.

Confirm requests for information with a phone call

If you receive a document that you believe is from the IRS by mail, contact them at 800-829-1040 to ensure the document is legitimate even if it looks authentic. The IRS never initiates contact by phone, text, or email.

Safeguard your Social Security number

Your Social Security number is very important. Never give it to anyone over the phone or via email. Leave your Social Security card at home unless you know you'll be needing it so that if your wallet is stolen, thieves won't have access to it. If someone asks for it for identification, offer another ID type such as a driver's license or passport rather than your SS card. Monitor your credit card and other financial statements for any unusual activity.

File your return as soon as possible

Sometimes fraudsters file tax returns in your name. The quicker you can complete your tax return, the more likely you'll stay ahead of a potential fraudster.

Never send sensitive information via email or text.

Scammers often mask themselves with emails or texts from numbers that appear to be from the IRS so that you'll respond with your personal information. Sometimes the emails or texts appear to be seeking urgent information to send your refund or to avoid specific adverse outcomes such as criminal charges. Remember, the IRS never contacts taxpayers via email or text.

Use a trusted tax preparer.

Confirm that your tax preparer is legitimate. Fraudsters masquerade as legitimate tax preparers online and in brick-and-mortar stores. Ask for the preparer's tax identification number and verify their status as a CPA before turning over any sensitive information to them. Also, beware of any tax preparers who encourage you to claim deductions that don't exist or deflate your income.

Request an Identity Protection PIN

An Identity Protection Pin (IP PIN) is a six-digit number that prevents anyone else from filing a tax return using your Social Security number. Only the IRS and you know your IP PIN. You can apply for a pin if you have a Social Security number and can verify your identity. The quickest way to apply is online, but you'll need an online IRS account first.

Bring your return directly to the post office if filing by mail

Mail tampering is a primary source of identity theft, and consumer reports of mail theft have risen 600 percent over the past three years. If you prefer to fill out your tax return by hand and mail it, never do so from your home or business mailbox. Instead, take your return directly to the post office yourself.

Be wary whenever anyone says they are calling you from the IRS.

Several popular scams gain access to your personal information by calling you and pretending to be from the IRS. In one scam, someone phones pretending to be from the IRS, saying you'll face criminal charges if you don't pay back taxes and asking you to pay using gift cards. In another scam, they say they've recalculated your return, and you are due a larger refund than you anticipated. They will refer you to a Web page that looks legitimate where you enter personal information. Another phone scam masquerades as being from the IRS Advocacy Service and asks for personal information.

Regardless of what the caller tells you, remember that the IRS never phones. If someone calls you and claims to be from the IRS, they are a scammer.

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