The United States’ tax season is here, and so are the scammers. Con artists are using the Social Security numbers of unsuspecting Americans to file phony tax returns and steal their refunds. In honor of the Federal Trade Commission’s Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, be on the lookout for this and other tax season scams.
How the scam works:
You file your taxes as normal and expect a refund from the IRS. Instead, you get a written IRS notice saying that more than one tax return was filed using your Social Security number.
What happened? Scammers got ahold of your personal information, such as your Social Security number, address, and birth date. They filed your return early and received your refund before you even got around to filing. Tax ID theft is a particularly sneaky con because victims typically don’t realize they’ve been targeted until they try to file their taxes for real.
Scammers steal your tax information in several ways. You may have fallen for a phishing scam at an earlier time, used a corrupt tax preparation service, or had your information exposed in a hack or data breach. Sometimes tax scammers file in the name of a deceased person or steal children’s identities to claim them as dependents.
How to avoid tax ID theft scams:
- File early. The best way to avoid tax identity theft is to file your taxes as early as possible, before a scammer has the chance to use your information.
- Watch out for red flags. If you receive written notice from the IRS about a duplicate return, respond promptly. You may also receive an IRS notice stating that you’ve received wages from somewhere you never worked, or receive other notices that don’t actually apply to you. Another big red flag is if you receive a notice that “you owe additional tax, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return” (IRS). Contact the IRS if you have any suspicions that a return has been filed in your name.
- Protect your Social Security number. Don’t give out your SSN unless there’s a good reason, and you’re sure who you’re giving it to.
- Research your tax preparer. Make sure your tax preparer is trustworthy before handing over your personal information.
- If you are a victim of ID theft, consider getting an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN). This is a six-digit number, which, in addition to your Social Security number, confirms your identity. Once you apply, you must provide the IP Pin each year when you file your federal tax returns. Visit IRS.gov for more information.
For more information about tax scams click here.
If you are the victim of tax identity theft in the U.S., contact the IRS at 1-800-908-4490. You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. The FTC also offers a personalized identity theft recovery plan at identitytheft.gov.
If you’ve been targeted by this or another scam, help others avoid the same problem by reporting your experience to BBB.org/ScamTracker.