Identity thieves want your tax refund. Learn how to protect yourself

Imagine going to your mailbox, eagerly looking to receive your tax refund. Instead, you get a letter from the IRS that makes your heart sink: “You filed more than one tax return or someone has already filed using your information.” Welcome to the world of tax refund fraud.
 
Typically, the scammer has stolen your Social Security number, filed a fraudulent tax return and snagged a refund under your name. Tax fraud due to identity theft is on the upswing. That’s one reason to obey the old adage of filing early so you can beat tax thieves to the punch. If you’re a victim, you can still get your refund, but you’ll have an abundance of paperwork to fill out to confirm your identity and often a long wait for your money, typically six months. Here are details from the IRS.
 
Meanwhile, as the clock ticks toward the tax filing deadline, beware of telephone and email scams by thieves passing themselves off as the IRS. Their goal is to get your Social Security number and other personal information that identifies you.
 
No one is immune from these scary, aggressive phone calls or emails. An attorney for the Federal Trade Commission got this one: “Hello, we have been trying to reach you. This call is officially a final notice from the Internal Revenue Service. The reason of this call is to inform you that the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you.” The scammers may threaten you with arrest unless you pay them ASAP with a prepaid debit card.
 
Keep this mind: The IRS will initially write you a snail mail letter about any problems. The IRS will not call or email you to ask for your financial or private information. Have concerns about your tax bill? Do not respond to any numbers or addresses in an email or call you receive. Better to email IRS.gov or call the IRS directly at 800-820-1040 and talk with an agent.
 
Here are a couple rules of thumb to avoid identity theft, including tax refund identify theft, from Washington Post financial writer Michelle Singletary: “I’ve instituted a rule to not believe any unsolicited communications from strangers. Caller ID can be manipulated to appear legit. So when I get a call, I tell the person that I’ll independently find a number for the business or agency and call right back. Almost every time, the person hangs up on me. In the few other cases, he or she tries to give me a number. But no, I don’t fall for that. I repeat that I’ll look for the number myself. I also don’t click on any links in e-mails that I’m not expecting.”
 
How bad is the tax refund problem? The IRS estimates that it lost $5.8 billion to fraudulent claims in 2013, while preventing $24.2 billion in fraudulent identify theft refunds. In 2013, there were nearly 2 million suspected tax identify theft incidents, up from 440,000 in 2010.
 
If you’re a victim of tax refund identity theft, be on the lookout for other damage to your financial situation. Keep a close watch on your checking account, credit card bills and credit report, and change your login passwords. For more on how to protect yourself from identity theft, check out previous Alliant blog articles, such as Anthem customer? What you can do to protect yourselfUsing alerts to improve the security of your accounts and How to create secure, memorable passwords.

Sources: irs.gov, fraud-magazine.com, wsj.com, washingtonpost.com and money.cnn.com