File your federal taxes early to avoid tax identity theft
Tax season is here, and so are the scammers. Con artists are using the Social Security numbers of unsuspecting Americans to file phony tax returns and steal their refunds. In honor of the Federal Trade Commission’s Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, be on the lookout for this and other tax season cons.
How the Scam Works You file your taxes as normal and expect a refund from the IRS. Instead, you get a written IRS notice saying that more than one tax return was filed using your Social Security number.
What happened? Scammers got ahold of your personal information, such as your Social Security number, address, and birth date. They filed your return early and received your refund before you even got around to filing. Tax ID theft is a particularly sneaky con because victims typically don’t realize they’ve been targeted until they try to file their taxes for real.
Scammers steal your tax information in several ways. You may have fallen for a phishing scam at an earlier time, used a corrupt tax preparation service, or had your information exposed in a hack or data breach. Sometimes tax scammers file in the name of a deceased person or steal children’s identities to claim them as dependents.
Tips to Avoid Tax ID Theft:
• File early. The best way to avoid tax identity theft is to file your taxes as early as possible, before a scammer has the chance to use your information.
• Protect your Social Security number. Don’t give out your SSN unless there’s a good reason, and you’re sure who you’re giving it to.
• Research your tax preparer. Make sure your tax preparer is trustworthy before handing over your personal information.
• If you are a victim of ID theft, consider getting an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN). This is a six-digit number, which, in addition to your Social Security number, confirms your identity. Once you apply, you must provide the IP Pin each year when you file your federal tax returns. Visit IRS.gov for more information.