By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
Another year has come and gone, and despite all the disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic one annual ritual remains: tax season. Identity thieves are constantly looking for new ways to separate you from your hard-earned money, and they will use the tax season as a way to do it.
Tax identity theft occurs when scammers find a way to use a legitimate taxpayer’s identity and personal information to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund. With the speed and efficiency of electronic tax filing, the victim is usually not aware of the incident until notified by the Internal Revenue Service that more than one return was filed in his or her name, or that he or she has a discrepancy in taxable earnings and employer identification information. By that time, your tax refund is often already in the hands of the scam artist.
Another prevalent tax-related scam is the IRS imposter. The scammer will claim you owe taxes and demand that you pay immediately over the phone, usually with a gift card or pre-paid debit card. Like a typical phone scam, they’ll attempt to pressure you into making a bad decision without properly thinking it through; in some cases, they’ll even threaten to arrest you. The real IRS will never do this, so as always just hang up. Never share your personal information over the phone, or online or through the mail for that matter, unless you initiated the contact and are 100 percent certain of that person’s identity.
Here are some additional tips to help protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft:
Protect your Social Security number (SSN). Don't carry your Social Security card or other documentation with your SSN on it. Provide your SSN only when required, such as filing taxes or applying for a loan. Be wary of websites or retailers that request this information.
Protect important financial and personal information. Personal financial documents and past years’ tax returns should be kept in a secure location such as a locked filing cabinet or a fire safe box and securely destroyed when no longer needed.
Protect your personal computer files by installing firewalls and anti-spam/virus software. It's also extremely important to periodically change your computer and Internet passwords.
Check your credit report annually. Monitoring your credit report helps make you aware of unusual or unauthorized activity and can alert you to possible identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission has additional tips and suggestions for guarding your identity at www.consumer.ftc.gov/.
If you receive a notice from the IRS or suspect your identity has been falsely used to claim a tax refund, you can visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov for instructions on proper reporting procedures. If you believe you have been the victim 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.