Emily Gaines, Class of 2018, is a Public Relations Coordinator for the Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas.
Filing your taxes can be frustrating and confusing, especially if you’re new—or still fairly new—to the process. In the midst of trying to file taxes correctly, you may not be thinking about keeping your identity safe. However, scammers are busy stealing tax returns as soon as tax season opens. So, how will you know if your tax return has been stolen? When you go to file, you’ll receive a written notice from the IRS that more than one return was filed using your Social Security number.
The real question is, how are scammers taking your tax return? They would have found your personal information at some point – information like your birth date, your Social Security number, your home address or more. Using this information, they filed a return early and got your refund before you even filed.
Now you may be wondering exactly how they got that information. This could’ve happened in several ways. Maybe you fell for a phishing scam a while back, used an illegitimate tax preparation service unknowingly if you decided to get help with your taxes or had your information exposed during a data breach. Scammers can even file in the name of someone deceased or steal a child’s identity and claim them as a dependent.
No matter how it was done, tax identity theft can have serious consequences, and you deserve the money you earned. Use these tips from your Better Business Bureau to stay safe this tax season:
File early. The sooner you file, the less opportunity a scammer has to use your information and file before you. This is the best way to avoid tax identity theft.
Protect your Social Security number. Only give out your SSN if there’s a good reason, if you know for sure who you’re giving it to and you know how it is going to be used and protected.
Do your research. If using a tax preparer, research them ahead of time. Ask friends and family for recommendations or find business profiles of trustworthy tax preparers at bbb.org.
Watch for red flags. Respond right away if you receive a written notice from the IRS about a duplicate return. You should also watch for notices that don’t apply to you, such as receiving wages from an employer you never worked for.
Consider an Identity Protection PIN. If you have become the victim of tax identity theft, consider getting an IP PIN. An IP PIN is a six-digit number that confirms your identity in addition to your SSN. Once you apply, you must provide it each year when you file your federal tax returns. You can learn more about IP PINs at IRS.gov.
Visit us at bbb.org for more tips and information on tax season!