If you’re looking for the best advice on protecting yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft, then the IRS is the place to start. Alongside having an identity theft protection package in place, which helps keep tabs on your personal information, the IRS has some great insights into the steps you need to take to make your data that little bit safer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, quite a lot of this information is based on common sense. However, identity fraudsters are devious. Although the IRS is always taking additional measures to help fight ID theft, particularly concerning tax affairs, they are often one step ahead of the game.
And, of course, as soon as the IRS takes new measures to close one possible area of fraudulent activity, criminals move on to their next opportunity. Therefore, it’s prudent to make things as difficult as possible for them, and the IRS has done a great job at assembling these top tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
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One of the most straightforward measures you can take, which might seem pretty obvious, is to ensure you don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Even at home, make sure your card is stored in a safe and secure location.
Try to make life as difficult as possible for criminals, so don't leave anything lying around in a prominent place, and keep your Social Security card hidden if you have to take it out with you.
It's a similar story for any digital information you might have about your Social Security number or other tax-related personal details. But, again, be sure not to share any personal information until you're sure it is an official source that needs to see it.
Another good habit to get into is frequent changes of any passwords you might have, especially if they pertain to personal information. A good quality password manager is a handy tool to have, and they're generally pretty affordable.
Lookout for scams
There seems to be a never-ending barrage of scams in circulation, with criminals using phone calls and emails to try and procure your personal information. You'll undoubtedly have experienced at least one of these routes taken by criminals.
It pays to remain vigilant and look out for scams that pretend to be from legitimate banks, credit card companies, and also the IRS too. If you don't feel quite right about something, then it's best to avoid it.
You'll need to get in touch with the IRS immediately if you're looking to e-file your tax return and find that you can't due to someone having already filed one using your Social Security number.
Therefore, you'll need to file a paper tax return instead and pay any outstanding tax that you may owe. You'll also be required to fill in the IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. This needs to be printed and mailed or faxed to the revenue service.
Along with the steps outlined in the paragraph above, you'll also need to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission if you've been a victim of tax-related ID theft. A handy FTC Complaint Assistant can help walk you through the steps involved.
On top of that, contact the Social Security Administration via www.ssa.gov. It would help if you also got in touch with any financial institutions that may need to know about any identity theft that you suspect might have occurred.
The other thing you’ll also want to do is to contact one or all of the credit bureaus. If you tell one about any potentially fraudulent activity, they will be required to inform the other two. At this point, you might want to place a fraud alert of a credit freeze on any account that might have been the subject of an identity theft alert.
It’s also a good idea to contact the applicable state tax agency. They may be able to advise if there are any other measures you need to take at the state level.
You might find that the IRS has already identified potentially fraudulent activity regarding your tax-related ID and Social Security number. If so, the IRS may well send you a letter. This should explain the next steps involved, usually by contacting the IRS via a special number.
Alternatively, they may want you to visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center, which will be able to take you through the steps involved in any investigation that might be needed.
If you have been the victim of identity theft, the IRS can issue you an IP PIN. This unique number contains six digits, which must be used to e-file a tax return. However, this only lasts for twelve months, so anyone using an IP PIN will get issued a new one every year.
Using an IP PIN can help safeguard your ID if you’ve been a victim previously and means that you can return to some normality following any breach of your data.
It’s important to remember that the IRS will not get in touch with you via the likes of text messages or through social media channels. Generally, the point of contact will be through the mail. If you have doubts about whether a communication is genuine, it’s always a good idea to contact the IRS via official channels.
Be sure not to share any of your personal information, especially your Social Security number, unless you’re sure it is with someone at the IRS.
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