Tax filing season is here, and if you haven’t filed your taxes yet, you might want to get busy. The IRS is urging people not to wait until the last minute to file to help reduce the risk of someone trying to steal your refund.
The issue is tax identity theft, which has been a big problem in Florida. This year, concern is extra high because of several data breaches in 2017—including the major Equifax breach; that breach alone compromised the personal information of 145 million Americans.
“Anybody can be a victim, because your data can be stolen anywhere,” said H&R Block Tax Specialist Joe Lezama. “You have to be very careful where you give your Social Security number and how they keep it.”
Tip-off to Tax ID Theft
The IRS says tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. The first tip-off of fraud for most victims is having your return rejected when you e-file.
“For identity theft, it just says ‘previously filed.' It is very frustrating,” said Lezama.
“Oh my goodness, I didn’t know that,” said taxpayer Matthew Corea. “That’s unbelievable.”
You can still get your refund if that happens, but the burden is on the victim to prove their identity to the IRS. The process can take several months.
One way to protect yourself is to apply for a 6-digit IRS Identity Protection Pin Number—which helps to prevent the misuse of your Social Security number on tax forms. Florida residents live in one of three areas of the country, including Georgia and the District of Columbia—where you are automatically eligible to file for a pin, because these areas have experienced so much tax fraud.
“If you apply for a pin, then no one else can file because that pin will be required,” explained Lezama.
If your tax return is rejected when you e-file because of a duplicate filing under your Social Security number, it’s still important for you to file a paper return and pay your taxes. You also need to fill out an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit that you can get online and attach to your return.
“I think it’s a good idea to have a pin number. Protection. That’s the word,” said taxpayer Marilyn Gilmore.
There’s also an IRS number for you to call for help, if needed: 1-800-908-4490
New Tax Scam
The IRS is also warning about another growing scam attempting to steal taxpayer refunds. The government says this a new twist on an old scam.
After stealing client data from tax professionals and filing fraudulent tax returns, criminals use the taxpayers' real bank accounts for the deposit. Crooks then call the victim and claim a refund deposited in their bank account was a mistake and needs to be returned. The IRS says don’t fall for it. They list steps to follow here, if this happens to you.
An H&R Block spokesperson says they have not experienced any issues with their customers, regarding this potential scam.
All taxpayers, however, are on notice and should be concerned about identity theft. The best advice is to always protect your personal information as best you can and file your taxes as early as possible.
“It’s very concerning, but you just have to make sure you’re doing all the right things you have to do and not be careless,” said taxpayer Matthew Corea.
If you become a victim
The Federal Trade Commission also recommends you take these steps if you become the victim of tax identity theft:
- File a complaint with the FTC at identitytheft.gov
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit records:
- Contact your financial institutions, and close any financial or credit accounts opened without your permission or tampered with by identity thieves.