The Digital Age has made filing taxes a whole lot easier. But with that convenience comes risk, thanks to scammers out to steal your identity or tax refund. With tax season right around the corner, it’s a good idea to make sure your taxpayer identity is protected.
Tax-related identity theft is one of the fastest growing forms of the crime, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Many victims only discover a crime has been committed when they file their own return. Then they learn their refund has been stolen or that a return already has been filed under their Social Security number.
Here are a few easy ways to keep yourself safe:
- File early. One of the best ways to be sure a thief can’t file a fraudulent return in your name and collect your refund is to file as early as you can. Now is the time to begin gathering your necessary paperwork and filing documents so that you can submit your return as soon as possible, beating a thief to the punch.
- Only carry what you need. A lost or stolen purse or wallet can happen any time of the year, but no matter when the wallet went missing, a thief can wreak havoc all over again come tax time. Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse, and never carry a document that contains that number.
- Watch the mail. Stay one step ahead of a tax identity thief by watching your mail carefully for a Social Security statement from the government. These statements show how much taxpayers have contributed to Social Security, and far too many people just pitch them in the garbage. Instead, review your statement closely. If you notice too much in contributions or multiple contributions listed, it could mean that someone is using your Social Security number for employment. That means you’ll be taxed at a higher rate for having “earned” more income than you actually brought in, and it means that a thief already has the necessary pieces of the puzzle to file a return and nab your refund.
Finally, remember that it’s vital you contact the IRS if you feel there are any errors, areas of concern, or if you’ve previously been a victim of identity theft. The IRS now has entire fraud detection and prevention departments, and can get you on the right track towards receiving a refund that is legitimately due to you. Don’t wait until the last minute, especially if your identity has been compromised.
Eva Velasquez is president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.