Are You at Risk for Tax Identity Theft?

January 18, 2016 : H&R Block

Are you doing a good job of protecting yourself from tax identity theft? Take a short self-assessment to gauge yourself, and then we’ll look ways you can do better.

Answer each question with “yes” or “no.”

  1. I don’t file my tax return until the deadline.
  2. I check my credit report every year, no exceptions.
  3. If I got an email from the IRS requesting information, I would respond.
  4. If someone who said they were an IRS agent called, I’d give them my social security number.
  5. I’ve given my personal information to a friend or family member to file taxes on my behalf.
  6. I have personal details like my full name and birthdate available publicly on social networking sites.

If you answered “no” to each question, you’re doing a pretty good job! You’re proactive and are suspicious of sharing any personal information, which is an important start. Keep reading for information on more ways to better protect your identity.

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, we need to talk.

Why is it bad to wait until the deadline to file a tax return?

This is a common approach, particularly among people who have to pay some tax to the IRS. It’s understandable that you want to wait. However, the first return filed in your name may be deemed the accurate return initially – even if it is filed by a scammer. You then have to go through an IRS process to prove the return was a fraud and your return is the true one. Filing early is one of the easiest things you can do to circumvent someone who would use your personal information to file a false return.

Why is it important to check my credit?

Typically, we think of checking a credit report when we need credit – when you’re buying a house or a car, or some other financial transaction. However, credit reports can give you early insight into whether a thief is using your personal information to open financial accounts. If you know your information is compromised, you may want to file a tax return early or request an extra protection, like the IRS IP PIN. H&R Block can help you navigate that process, too.

Why can’t I provide information to the IRS?

Often, it’s not actually the IRS. Phone calls and emails claiming to be from the IRS are often phishing schemes. They frequently top the IRS’s list of “dirty dozen” tax scams. Someone calls, pretending to be the IRS, in order to capture your personal information. The same thing happens with emails. Even if it has an IRS logo, or links to something that looks like an IRS website, you shouldn’t assume it’s real. What should you do? Send any suspicious email to phishing@irs.gov. If you get a phone call, and think that you might owe taxes, you can hang up and call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040. If you know you don’t owe any taxes, you can report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.

Why shouldn’t I share my personal information with friends and family?

Sharing your information with a spouse is one thing. But providing your personal information to distant relatives should be avoided. You are responsible for the accuracy of your tax return. By handing over your personal information, you are opening yourself up to someone else completing an inaccurate return. Or, they could, in turn, share your information to another individual who might file a false return and claim a refund for him or herself. There are many unscrupulous tax preparers out there. If you aren’t selecting one for yourself, you can’t be sure that your information is protected. Learn more about selecting a tax professional. 

Why is it bad to use my real name and birthday on social networking sites?

A scammer needs only three things to file a fraudulent return: your name, birthdate and social security number. When you readily provide two of those three, it makes it easier for them to maneuver to get the third piece of information. Use privacy settings to limit who has access to that personal information. It is also best not to share your birthday and even consider a modified version of your name. You could use your middle name as a first name, omit your last name, change the order or more. While it isn’t foolproof, these steps make it much more difficult to access your personal information.

There are many more steps you can take to help better protect your identity. If you file your tax return with H&R Block, you can choose Tax Identity Shield®. In addition to helping better protect your tax identity, this includes Tax Identity Restoration Assistance to help you navigate the process if your identity is stolen and a false tax return is filed. Make an appointment at an office near you for more information.

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