Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, which is why it’s an excellent idea to get signed up for the best identity theft protection, which can certainly help. Increasingly though, it is tax-related identity theft that’s becoming a significant issue across the US.
This can happen to anyone anytime, with criminals using your stolen personal information, such as your Social Security number, to file a tax return. After doing that, they will go after your tax refund, which is obviously fraudulent but can also cause you a lot of hassle and, naturally, leave you out of pocket.
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Along with knowing what to keep an eye on regarding your personal tax affairs to spot any identity theft, you'll also want to know what to do next if it happens. Unfortunately, many people don't realize they've been the victim of identity theft until the IRS notifies them, so having at least an idea of what to look out for is sensible.
Several things can lead you to feel like you've been the victim of identity theft, and one of the first is if you get a letter from the IRS. It might be asking you about a tax return you do not know about filing. It may be that you can't e-file your tax return because there is a duplicate of your Social Security number in circulation.
Other factors that indicate you might have been the victim of identity theft is a tax transcript arriving through the mail that you weren’t expecting. You may also get an IRS confirmation of a new online account created in your name, even though you didn’t open one. Similarly, your existing online account might have been accessed or disabled without your knowledge.
Look out for any notices from the IRS suggesting you owe additional tax or refund offset. You might also experience collection actions against you that might cover a year you didn’t even file a tax return. On top of that, you may find that IRS records show you have received wages or other unattributed income from an employer you’ve never worked for.
If anything like this has happened to you and you feel you might be a victim of tax-related identity theft, then the IRS has some excellent guidance on what to do next.
While the central issue might be that your Social Security number has been compromised, other areas where your details might have been stolen too. If you suspect anything like this has happened, you need to respond immediately to any notices you receive from the IRS using the phone number they supplied.
If you’ve already e-filed a return and it gets rejected, then this may be because of a duplicate filing, possibly because someone has been using your Social Security number, you’ll need to complete IRS Form 14039, the Identity Theft Affidavit. It may be that the IRS instructs you to do this instead. Either way, use the fillable form via IRS.gov, print it, and mail the document using the official guidance.
Following that move, the next port of call should be to visit IdentityTheft.gov, a hub dedicated to helping you through the next steps involved in post-identity theft. It’s got some excellent practical guidance on how best to proceed and the core things you need to do to minimize the fallout from having your details compromised.
Regarding prioritizing what you need to do, the site sets out its stall nicely. First up, you’ll want to call any companies where you think there might have been fraudulent issues relating to your details. You will still need to file your tax return and naturally pay any taxes you owe, which might have to be done using paper tax returns until the situation is resolved.
Make a point of keeping a record of who you contacted and the dates involved. In addition, be sure to retain copies of any correspondence.
The other thing to do is place a fraud alert by contacting one of the three credit bureaus, including TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. You might only contact one, but they must tell the other two. You’ll also want your free credit reports from TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. The IdentityTheft.gov site advises heading to annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228 to do this.
While this government advice hub can help if you’ve been the victim of tax-related identity theft, it is also an excellent resource if you’ve suffered from other forms of fraud. There is guidance on what you should do if you’ve been the victim of tax, medical, or child identity theft, along with a whole host of other topics designed to make the experience slightly less stressful.
Of course, the other thing to do if you don't already have measures in place is to secure your personal information. Choosing one of the best identity theft protection packages is an excellent way of combating fraudsters. Still, signing up for security software is also a good idea if you don't already have it.
Investing in a password manager is another prudent move, which will help secure all those passwords that we accumulate now that so much of our daily lives are online. Even taking steps to reduce the flow of conventional junk mail is another way you can reduce your profile.
Simply making it less easy for ID thieves to get hold of your details is one thing, while remaining vigilant about protecting your personal information is the other key issue to address. The threat might always be there, but you can at least do your bit to reduce it.
- Check out our roundup of the best identity theft protection
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Bryan M. Wolfe is a staff writer at TechRadar, iMore, and wherever Future can use him. Though his passion is Apple-based products, he doesn't have a problem using Windows and Android. Bryan's a single father of a 15-year-old daughter and a puppy, Isabelle. Thanks for reading!