It's hard to believe, but tax season is once again upon us. Many of you have probably already received forms in the mail or electronically and have started working on your tax returns. As the filing season gears up, we mark this week, January 30 – February 3, as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.
Tax identity theft occurs when a scammer files a fraudulent tax return using your Social Security Number to steal your refund. You may not know this has happened until you file your real return, and the IRS rejects your filing because they think you have already filed.
There are many ways a scammer could have gotten your Social Security Number, from a large-scale data breach to a simple dumpster-dive. In some cases, there is nothing you could have done to prevent the identity theft, but a few tips can help you keep your information secure:
- Only disclose Social Security Numbers when absolutely necessary, such as filing taxes or applying for a loan. Be wary of websites or retailers that request this information.
- Keep personal financial documents and past years’ tax returns in a secure location, such as a locked filing cabinet or a fire safe box.
- Protect personal computer files by installing firewalls and anti-spam/virus software. Protect online accounts using strong passwords and PIN numbers.
- Monitor credit reports for unauthorized or suspicious activity.
In addition to tax identity theft, IRS imposter scams have risen to become some of the most popular forms of scams reported to our office, and often spike around tax time. It’s easy to see why. It can be very scary to receive a phone call telling you that you owe back taxes, and if you don’t pay immediately, an agent will be sent to seize your assets or even arrest you. Many consumers have been tricked into giving these scammers money through this high-pressure scam.
Remember, the IRS will never call and demand immediate payment. If you do owe taxes, the IRS will mail you notice before trying to reach you by phone. If you receive a call like this, hang up immediately. If you have any doubt about whether it was real, you can call the IRS back directly at (800) 829-1040.
If you believe you have been the victims of identity theft or a scam, you can file a report online with our Consumer Protection Division at www.InYourCornerKansas.org or give us a call at (800) 432-2310.