Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week is an annual event that aims to educate individuals about the risks of tax-related identity theft and empower them with the knowledge to protect themselves. In a world where digital transactions and financial activities are prevalent, understanding the threats associated with tax identity theft is crucial. Here are 4 tips to help keep your financial and tax information safe.
1. File Early:
Tax identity theft relies on fraudsters getting a return submitted in your name before you do. If someone has your Social Security number (SSN), they can accomplish this relatively easily. Filing your return early keeps them from being able to file fraudulently. This way, you are the only one who gets to cash in on your tax return. Once you have all of your W2s, don’t wait!
2. Protect your Social Security Number and Other Personal Information:
Safeguard your Social Security number, financial documents, and other sensitive information. Shred important documents before discarding them, and avoid sharing personal details over the phone or online unless absolutely necessary.
Additionally, you can register your Social Security number at www.ssa.gov/myaccount to open a “my Social Security account” online. This account allows you to check your Social Security statements anytime you want. It also shows your earnings, which can reveal if someone has gotten a job using your number. It’s another sure sign of SSN identity theft.
3. Sign up for an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN):
This year, the IRS announced they have a new tool that can help taxpayers protect their refunds. It’s called an Identity Protection PIN. It’s a 6-digit number that a taxpayer sets up that must be submitted when they submit their returns. This number is known only to the taxpayer and the IRS.
You can set up your IP PIN through the IRS website at "Get an IP PIN." You will go through what the IRS describes as a “rigorous identify verification process” to confirm you are really who you say you are. Then you can select your PIN.
IP PINs are only valid for one year, so if you sign up for a PIN now it will be good for one year. When you submit your returns this year, you would provide the IP PIN to verify your identity. If you e-file, your unique identity protection PIN must be provided to submit your return electronically. If you file a paper return by mail, you will provide your PIN next to your signature.
If the IP PIN is not provided when a return is submitted in your name, the return will be rejected. This ensures that tax scammers cannot file a return in your name, even if they have your Social Security number. It’s an added layer of protection that may be worth the time it takes to set up, especially if your identity has been compromised.
4. Only trust mailed IRS communications:
Whether you’ve already filed or not, you should never trust any communication from the IRS unless it’s an official, mailed letter. The IRS will never email you, text you, call your phone (even your home landline), or send you a message over social media to initiate contact. If someone contacts you any other way claiming to be the IRS, it’s a scam!
The most common type of this scam is IRS collections. Someone calls or texts claiming to be an employee of the IRS, stating you owe money and must pay immediately. They may even offer all or part of your SSN as proof that they are who they say they are. They aren’t. If someone contacts you about an IRS collection action, verify it first before you give them anything. You can call an IRS collection hotline at 1-800-829-1040 to confirm that you owe federal taxes.
Other tips to keep your financial information safe:
Stay Informed about Common Scams: Educate yourself about common tax identity theft scams. Be aware of phishing emails, fake IRS communications, and fraudulent tax preparers. The more informed you are, the better equipped you'll be to identify potential threats.
Use Strong Passwords: Strengthen your online security by using complex passwords for your financial accounts. Avoid easily guessable passwords and consider using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols to enhance security.
Regularly Monitor Financial Statements: Keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements. Regularly reviewing your financial transactions helps you identify any unauthorized or suspicious activities promptly.
Use Secure Wi-Fi Connections: When filing taxes online or accessing financial accounts, ensure that you're using a secure and encrypted Wi-Fi connection. Avoid public Wi-Fi networks for sensitive transactions to minimize the risk of data interception.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication: Add an extra layer of security to your online accounts by enabling two-factor authentication (2FA). This additional step helps protect your accounts even if your password is compromised.
Choose Reputable Tax Preparers: If you use a tax professional's services, ensure they have a good reputation and are trustworthy. Avoid tax preparers who promise inflated refunds or request a percentage of your refund as their fee.
Check Your Credit Report: Regularly monitor your credit report for any unusual activities. Reporting discrepancies or unauthorized accounts promptly can help mitigate potential damage caused by identity theft.
As we observe Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, it's crucial to take proactive steps to protect ourselves from the ever-evolving threats of identity theft. By staying informed, securing personal information, and adopting best practices for online safety, individuals can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to tax-related identity theft. Stay vigilant, be proactive, and safeguard your financial well-being.