Prevention rather than cure is undoubtedly relevant regarding identity theft, especially if it's related to your tax affairs. Any kind of fraudulent activity concerning your data is bad enough. Still, if criminals get hold of your Social Security number and other essential details such as your name and address, they may try and get hold of your tax refund too.
Thankfully, the IRS has procedures in place to help reduce the threat of this happening and plenty of complimentary tools you can use. Signing up for an identity theft protection package is one of the best ways to supplement much of the IRS's common-sense advice for combating ID theft.
However, it's also good to be pretty up to speed on what to look out for if you're worried about personal identity theft. Even if you're not unduly concerned about it, there are still plenty of signs you can keep in mind for reference, just in case you may, one day, find that your data has been compromised. Nobody is immune from tax identity theft, so it's advisable to know the signs that it has happened to you.
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One of the main things you can do to keep an eye out for possible signs of more general identity theft is by keeping close tabs on your bank statements. If you've noticed something that doesn't quite look right, or indeed you've had a check bounce, then it could be that there is fraudulent activity happening on one or more of your bank accounts.
Although this can be a hassle to put right, you want to act as soon as possible by notifying your bank and closing the account. Chances are you'll have things like payments that go out of the account, so be sure to inform the payees or amend the payment details to ensure there aren't more problems further down the line.
While personal banking is one thing, tax identity theft can cause even more of a nightmare. Generally, you'll find that tax-related ID theft and tax refund fraud can often happen if criminals manage to get hold of your details, such as name, address, and date of birth, along with your Social Security number.
If this happens, you'll probably have difficulty filing your tax return, which is why fraudsters will often file for a tax refund using your information. If the Internal Revenue Service hasn't contacted you informing you of suspicious activity, you'll want to get in touch with them as soon as possible.
Another step in this process is to notify the Federal Trade Commission and the local police, which may help expedite any follow-up investigations.
Of course, tax identity theft could be just one part of fraudulent activity that might affect you. Perhaps the worst part about having your Social Security number compromised is that it’s more complex to sort the issue out. While having things like credit card accounts used fraudulently is one thing, the knock-on effect of someone stealing your Social Security number is more profound.
It’s relatively easy to get a replacement credit card, but once your Social Security number has been stolen, several hurdles must be overcome. The other thing is that, even if you’re vigilant, the telltale signs of tax identity theft can take a while to filter through.
If you’re generally slow at filing your tax return, then it’s a good idea to revisit that line of thinking and try to file as soon as possible. Doing this could steal a march on criminals if they’ve managed to get hold of your Social Security number.
One of the quickest ways of keeping tabs on whether or not you've been a victim of identity theft is to get regular insights on your credit report. Using the services of an identity theft protection service can help you do this, while the three main bureaus should also be contacted if you spot something untoward. Although Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion operate independently. If you tell one credit bureau about your suspicions, they will notify the others.
Simply checking your credit score and viewing credit reports regularly can help you see if there has been any strange activity concerning your data. Similarly, look for things like bills going missing or if you start getting statements that aren't anything to do with you or your activities. The same goes if you start receiving calls from debt collectors, and remember not to give any unsolicited callers your details either.
The dark web
Remember that there’s an endless demand for information such as your details and tax data, especially on the dark web. This shady area of the internet is thriving, and many aspects of its operation include the buying and selling of personal IDs, including names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. You name it, and the dark web probably has it.
While you might not be able to eradicate the risk of personal identity theft entirely, there are plenty of preventative measures and safeguards that you can have in place to at least minimize the risk. If you’re thinking about an identity theft protection package, there are plenty of options.
These may seem like pretty straightforward tips, but used in conjunction with an identity theft protection package, they’ll go a long way to helping you stay more secure. And, crucially, keeping your tax-related identity as much of a secret as it needs to be.
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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!