By Matt Davis, Victim Advisor at the Identity Theft Resource Center
As winter turns into spring, Americans scurry under the looming threat of the April tax deadline. An enormous amount of personal information circulates during this period, as individuals prepare and submit their taxes to the IRS. Over the past several years, studies have shown a steady increase in tax-related identity theft. Filing fraudulently to swipe your tax return is a favorite move of scammers, and usually the victim doesn’t find out until they try to file their legitimate return, only to have the IRS inform them that they’ve already filed. Or they may be informed that their work history doesn’t match up correctly, and that instead of getting the refund they expected, they are now indebted to Uncle Sam for “unpaid” income taxes.
This problem is especially dangerous for minors, whose Social Security numbers are not yet used for credit acquisition or work purposes by their legitimate owners, thus making the fraud less likely to be detected. Claiming a child fraudulently on an otherwise legitimate return is also an effective scam being done with increasing frequency. Parents may get an IRS notice that their children cannot be claimed on their taxes, because they’ve already been claimed on a previously filed return. When you receive such a notice from the IRS, first contact the agency to determine the legitimacy of the letter. After the letter is verified, the next step is to complete an identity theft affidavit form.
How long it takes to rectify the situation can vary depending upon the individual circumstances of the identity theft. Unfortunately, being notified by the IRS about possible tax-related identity fraud could be just the tip of the identity theft iceberg. Anyone who has been a victim of identity theft in any form should check their credit regularly and consider setting up a fraud alert. Checking for the existence of, and then freezing, the credit report of your child is also highly advisable if your child’s personally identifying information may have been compromised.
There are a variety of ways your personal identifying information can be compromised, including the theft of a wallet or purse, giving your information to a scammer posing as a legitimate party through a phone call or email, having a thief go through your trash, or inadvertently providing information to an unsecured website. Ensure that your computer is kept up-to-date with the latest anti-virus software and shred any mail that contains personally identifying information. Another way to lower the chances of you or your child becoming victims is to make sure you don’t carry any important documentation (like a social security number or birth certificate), in your wallet or purse. When these documents are lost or stolen, your likelihood of becoming a victim goes up exponentially. If at all possible, file your taxes online/electronically (assuming you’re confident your home computer is secure). This will allow for a more immediate response from the IRS, and positive or negative, this will increase the speed with which you can address the issue.