Tax season is here. It is time to get your files and forms in order. You may be well-versed in W-2's and 1099's, but do you know that an identity thief could possibly get to your tax refund before you can file for it?
Tax-related ID theft generally happens in two ways, both involving your Social Security Number (SSN). If someone uses your SSN to get a job, the employer reports that person's income to the IRS using your SSN. When you file your tax return you do not include those earnings. The IRS does not know those wages were reported by an employer you do not know; the agency would send you a letter saying you did not report the income.
Sometimes an identity thief uses your SSN to file for, and get, your tax refund before you file. Then, when you go to file your return, IRS records show the first filing and the refund. You will get a notice or letter from the IRS saying more than one return was filed for you.
If this happens to you or if the IRS sends you any notice or letter indicating a problem, contact them immediately. Visit the IRS online at irs.gov or call 1-800-908-4490. Specialists will help you get your tax return filed, get you any refund you may be due, and protect your IRS account from identity thieves in the future. You should also contact your state's tax agency to report possible identity theft. In Wisconsin the Department of Revenue can be reached by calling 608-266-2772.
File a complaint with the Wisconsin Bureau of Consumer Protection using the contact information at the bottom of this fact sheet.
One additional point: the IRS never starts contact with a taxpayer using email, text, or social media that asks for personal or financial information. If you get an email that claims to be from the IRS do not reply or click on any links; instead forward it to email@example.com.
In addition, here are some examples of how to minimize your risk for identity theft:
- If someone else obtained your SSN
File your taxes as early as possible so you file before an identity thief does. You also may want to have your SSN flagged by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue by calling (608) 266-2772. Once your SSN has been flagged, your identity will need to be verified before a Wisconsin State tax refund will be sent out, preventing an identity thief from receiving your tax refund. Identity verification may delay the receipt of your Wisconsin tax refund. In order to determine if someone else's income is being reported under your SSN, you can go to the Social Security Administration website at www.ssa.gov and set up a "my Social Security" account so you monitor your earnings and wages reported under your SSN.
Tax preparers and personal privacy
Apply for an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) from the IRS. This is a six-digit number that prevents someone else from filing a tax return using your Social Security number. The IP PIN is known only to you and the IRS and helps verify your identity when you file your electronic or paper tax return. Apply at www.irs.gov. Know the company or individual that will be preparing your tax return. Investigate with the Better Business Bureau, especially if they are new or appear to provide seasonal services. Contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-422-7128, to find out if there are any complaints against them if you are not sure. Ask the business how your information will be handled and stored, what computer security is used, and if the person working on your taxes has undergone a thorough background screening. Trust your instincts, if you feel uncomfortable or doubt the company's commitment to protecting your privacy, take your business to a company you can trust.
Watch out for tax time scams
If you receive an email asking for your Social Security Number or other personal information, delete it or forward it to the Federal Trade Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com for investigation. The IRS does not send emails asking for information or to inform you of anything. Likewise, banks do not request personal information by sending you an email or calling you on the telephone. If you have not initiated contact, then do not give out personal information to anyone.
Make a habit of comparing your W-2 wage earning statement you receive from your employer with the Social Security Administration (SSA) statement you may obtain from their website to be sure the amounts match exactly. If the amounts do not match it may indicate someone is working in your name or it can indicate an error in reporting. Either way, contact the Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov to report any discrepancies.
Use a mailbox that locks or consider having your mail sent to a Post Office Box. Try to retrieve your mail daily. Uncollected mail is an invitation for identity thieves. Deposit your mail in an official mailbox preferably inside the Post Office. Never leave outgoing mail in your personal mailbox or mailboxes at work.
If you have moved within the tax year, notify any payers of your new address. Do not rely solely on the Postal Service change of address process to notify everyone you may expect tax documents from.
Keep tax paperwork in a safe, locked location. When you must travel with them, place them out of sight like in the trunk of your car until you can deliver them safely to your tax preparer or to your home for safe storage.
Shred, shred, shred
Place papers you no longer need that contain personal information such as social security number, account numbers, etc. through a microcut shredder.
If you are using your computer to file or store your tax return, be sure it is protected with up-to-date antivirus, firewall and spy-ware software to protect you from invasion. Be sure to update these security programs daily for the greatest protection. Do not allow remote access to your computer unless you can be sure it is not an imposter.