CHAMPAIGN — Preparing your taxes can be a headache, but you know what’s even worse? Identity theft.
And tax-related identity theft is the most common form of the crime in the last 5 years. In 2014, the IRS launched more than a thousand investigations into tax-related identity theft.
If that seems like a lot, think of all of the cases which went unreported.
But what is tax-related identity theft? It happens when someone tries to use your Social Security number to get a tax refund.
Here are some signs it might have happened to you, from IRS and Busey Bank:
- You e-file your return and it says a return’s already been filed using that Social Security number
- If you’re lucky, the IRS might send you a letter saying the return with your Social Security number looks suspicious.
- You might get an extra tax return sent back to you you never filed
- Look out for records of payment by an employer you’ve never worked for; it could mean someone also used your SSN to get a job
What do you do if it happens to you?
- Get in touch with the FTC
- Reach out to a major credit bureau to put a “fraud alert” on your records
- Close any new accounts you think a thief created in your name
- You still want to file your taxes, even if you have to do it on paper, but make sure the IRS knows about your ID situation first
It’s because tax-related identity theft is one of the most common ways criminals can get your identity and use it to open new lines of credit, file fake tax returns and just throw your financial life into a mess.
So here are some recommendations for avoiding it in the first place, from IRS and Busey Bank:
- Get it done early! Tax season did just begin, but criminals will have less time to use your information for a fake return if you just get it done and over with
- Shred any documents you don’t need once those taxes are filed, and keep those you do need in a safe place
- If you’re mailing in your return, drop it off at a post office rather than your home mailbox
- Make sure to grab your W2 forms out of your mailbox right away
The IRS will always contact you by mail. Any email from them is a scam. But you might be filing your returns online. In that case, from IRS and Busey Bank:
- Use security software with firewalls to block viruses
- Use strong passwords
- Be skeptical of any email or even text message asking for personal information or with downloadable attachments
Of course, one of the easiest tips of all for this tax season and the rest of the year: Don’t carry around your Social Security card in your purse or wallet. It’s one of the easiest ways for your identity to literally get into someone’s hands.
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