Protecting taxpayers and their tax refunds from identity theft has become a top priority for the IRS. This year the IRS expanded its efforts to better protect taxpayers and help victims dealing with this difficult issue.
When your personal information is lost or stolen, it can lead to identity theft. Identity thieves sometimes use your personal information to file a tax return to claim a tax refund. Then, when you file your own tax return, the IRS will not accept it and will notify you that a return was already filed using your name and social security number. Often, learning that your return was not accepted or receiving a contact from the IRS about a problem with your tax return is the first time you become aware that you’re a victim of identity theft.
How to avoid becoming an identity theft victim.
- Guard your personal information. Identity thieves can get your personal information in many ways. This includes stealing your wallet or purse, posing as someone who needs information about you, looking through your trash, or stealing information you provide to an unsecured website or in an unencrypted email.
- Watch out for IRS impersonators. Be aware that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or social media channels to request personal or financial information or notify people of an audit, refund or investigation. Scammers may also use phone calls, faxes, websites or even in-person contacts. If you’re suspicious that it’s not really the IRS contacting you, don’t respond.
- Protect information on your computer. Protect it with a strong password.
Your identity may have been stolen if the IRS notifies you that:
- You filed more than one tax return or someone has already filed using your information;
- You owe taxes for a year when you were not legally required to file and did not file; or
- You were paid wages from an employer where you did not work.
You should respond quickly.
The IRS advises us that it takes identity theft-related tax fraud very seriously and realizes that identity theft is a frustrating process for victims. By late 2012, the IRS assigned more than 3,000 employees — more than double from 2011 — to work on identity theft-related issues.
The IRS continues to enhance its screening process to stop fraudulent returns. During 2012, the IRS protected $20 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft, compared with $14 billion in 2011.
The IRS recently announced that a year-long nationwide focus on tax refund fraud and identity theft has resulted in more than 100 arrests in 32 states and Puerto Rico. In January 2013 alone, the IRS targeted 389 identity theft suspects resulting in 734 enforcement actions.
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