If you're one of those people who waits until the deadline of April 15 to file, you might want to rethink your strategy – an identity thief could beat you to the refund you deserve.
Tax-related identity theft is a growing problem, and Tift County residents are not immune. A local woman reported this week that someone had used her personal information to file a fraudulent tax return.
So how do you keep it from happening to you? First of all, don't carry your Social Security card, or any documents bearing your SSN or Taxpayer Identification number. Don't give these numbers to just anyone because they've asked. Provide this information only when it is required, and make sure you find out how your information will be handled once the asker has it in hand.
It is a good practice to be cautious when providing this information over the telephone or online as well. Again, don't give it to just anyone – make sure you know who you're talking to or e-mailing.
You should check your credit report once a year, and you can do so for free. If you store personal or financial information in your home, make sure it is secured. You should also ensure that your personal computer at home is protected by using a firewall, and anti-spam and anti-virus software. Make sure to update security patches, and change your passwords periodically. You shouldn't use the same password for every account or every site you utilize.
You can tell fairly quickly if someone has hacked into your e-mail or used your debit card without your permission, but it's more difficult to tell if someone has filed a tax return using your information. Most people don't know until they file and receive an error message.
Nina Olson, National Taxpayer Advocate says the number of cases of tax-related identity theft have increased around 650 percent since 2008. The IRS has reported on its site that the number of cases has doubled each year in the past few years.
So if you find you're a victim, what can you do? When you file your return, if the IRS already has a return on file bearing your Social Security number, the return will be rejected. You'll get a notice stating this.
At this point, you can use IRS Form 14039 to alert the IRS of the incident. The form can be found online at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039.pdf. Once you've completed the form, mail it to the IRS with copies of your Social Security card and driver's license. You may want to send it registered mail, so that you have a record you sent it. If you don't have a driver's license, a U.S. passport, military ID or government-issued ID will work. Make the documents to Internal Revenue Service, P.O. Box 9039, Andover, MA 01810-0939.
If you find you're a victim of tax-related identity theft, it's a good idea to check your bank and credit card statements, as well as your credit report. Once someone has your information and can file a false tax return, it's likely they may use it to commit other crimes.
To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.