A new tax season means a lot of things to the American taxpayer, but to the identity thieves who prey on unsuspecting citizens it's the best time of the year to get rich.
According to the AARP Fraud Watch Network, a typical identity theft starts when thieves buy or steal information from individuals and, using that information, they file a false tax return and steal the taxpayer's refund. But that's just the beginning of what can happen once the thief has your personal information. They can use that information to set up charge accounts in your name, for example, then they go shopping and you get the bills. Trying to straighten out that situation can be frustrating and costly.
To avoid tax identity theft, AARP suggests:
- Mail tax returns as early in the tax season as possible to deprive tax thieves of a time advantage.
- Don't give anyone personal information unless you know who is asking for it and why they need it.
- Shred personal and financial documents (some thieves go through "trash" to find personal info).
- Know your tax preparer and make sure he/she is legitimate.
- Check the status of your refund after filing it at www.irs.gov/Refunds.
If you think someone has used your Social Security number for a tax refund, contact the IRS immediately at 800-908-4490.
As noted in a recent Digest article (see "IRS's Budget Cuts Mean Less Services for Taxpayers in 2015"), drastic cuts in IRS funding will mean protection against identity theft will be delayed this year, among other things. So it's up to the taxpayer to make sure that he or she is not a victim this or any other year.