Filing taxes rarely earns a top spot on anyone’s “fun things to do” list. Knowing that there might be an ample return could be a nice incentive, but what would you do if that check never came?
Tax season kicked off January 29 when the IRS began accepting tax returns and will continue until April 15, with an estimated 150 million individuals filing. This is prime time for tax-related fraud: 242,000 people reported fraud incidents, in the most recent count.
While the IRS and state tax authorities have implemented several measures to reduce the number of fraudulent tax returns, identity thieves continue their attacks on filers and tax preparation businesses. Last year’s high-profile data breaches exposed the Social Security numbers and other key personal information of over half of America’s population, and it’s uncertain whether this will provide ammunition for scammers this tax season. But, regardless of whether your information was compromised, it’s always best to take steps to reduce your risk of tax-related fraud.
Here’s what you can do this year:
- File early. The best way to prevent an imposter from stealing your return is to close the window of opportunity. While this may not stop fraudulent activity from occurring, the IRS processes returns on a first-come, first-served basis, meaning if you’re expecting a return it should come to you.
- Most tax preparers are honest businesses. But, if you’re getting help filing your taxes make sure that you use a tax preparer approved by the IRS to avoid deceitful entities set up to steal personal information.
- Stay vigilant against imposter schemes that prompt you to share sensitive personal information. These phishing attempts may come by phone, e-mail, or social media. Identity thieves can pose as your employer, payroll companies, or the IRS itself. Often the requests will seem unnecessarily urgent, threaten penalties, and direct you to visit a fake website to enter information or download an attachment that contains malicious software. If you’re unsure, verify any communication directly with the supposed sender by calling them directly to confirm. Know that the IRS will never contact you by email or phone. If you receive a suspicious request, report it to the Treasury Inspector General.
- Shred documents that contain personal information, so they don’t end up in the wrong hands. Digital copies of documents should be password-protected and never transmitted using unsecured or public networks.
- Monitor your tax return status using the IRS’ online tool. You will be able to see if someone has filed a return before you and can take action more quickly. Remember that your state income taxes are also vulnerable to fraud, so keep an eye out for notifications from state authorities that tax filings have been received prior to your filing.
Resolving issues of tax identity theft can be painstaking and time-consuming, taking about 4 to 6 months, according to the IRS. If you have questions about the validity of tax-related communications or think you’ve been a victim of tax identity theft, Alumni ID Theft Protection plans offer a certified identity theft resolution team available 24/7 to help.
For more information about how The Alumni Insurance Program can help keep your personal data safe, visit www.TheAIP.com.