Identity theft is all too common and rising, especially to snatch up tax refunds, unbeknownst to the rightful recipient until it’s too late – $3.6 billion in possible theft occurred in 2012 and 14.6 million attempts were made otherwise. So how do you keep yours protected? Read below to keep your identity and refund safe, secure, and away from thieves.
Using your Social Security number, thieves will try to file before you do and reap the benefits. File as close to opening day as possible, so that your filing is legitimized, and any following attempt will be flagged.
Like your birth certificate or diploma, your social security card is a flimsy yet valuable piece of paper that’s not easy to replace. Your SSN is the smallest of these, but also would put you in the biggest pickle if you lost it – someone could easily use that information against you, including to reap the monetary benefits your tax refund. Lock it away and only carry it around if you have a specific reason to, then lock it up again safely! As tax refund thieves often use old tax documents, make sure these are available in your garbage bin or on an open-access location online. If you throw them away, be sure to shred, and if you don’t file it away safely.
Your SSN may be required by your bank or other trustworthy, high-security account, but other than that, avoid typing in your 9 digits anywhere else online (except e-filing, of course). The IRS will never email you – they only communicate via letters in the mail and over the phone.
Look for the secure transaction label – otherwise, skip it. Stay in the know about security breaches at retailers you frequent, regularly change your passwords on the secure online shopping accounts you do engage in, and remove personal information from social media sites that can be strung together with your stolen credit card or SSN information.
You should do so to keep up with your credit score, but getting a report at AnnualCreditReport.com once a year to check all three bureaus to ensure there’s no fraudulently opened accounts.
If you believe someone has your information or is using it to either open fraudulent accounts or receive your tax refund, first contact Federal Trade Commission at consumer.gov/IDtheft or call the FTC Identity Theft hotline toll-free at 1-877-438-4338, as well as the three major credit bureaus. Consider filing a report with the local police department as well. Then file Form 14039 with the IRS. It will lock your account, making it difficult for you to access information while the investigation is ongoing, but will also effectively deflect fraudsters.
No need to be fearful of tax refund theft – simply be proactive and aware.