We often put off doing our taxes until the last minute. But there’s one very good reason to file well before April 15 – it’s your best defense against tax-related identity theft.
AARP Fraud Network
Tax ID scams usually work like this: Someone who has obtained personal information such as your Social Security number and date of birth files a tax return in your name. They do so as early as possible, because the scam relies on the phony return getting to the Internal Revenue Service ahead of the real one. By the time you file, the scammer may have already gotten a refund, and you won’t know you’ve been victimized until you get word from the IRS that it already has received your return.
Your tax data can be stolen in a number of ways: theft of mail or tax returns, phishing emails from impostors, or hacks of tax firms and employers’ personnel records. Some tax scammers file in the name of deceased taxpayers, or steal children’s identities to claim them as dependents.
A joint crackdown by the IRS, state tax agencies and the tax-preparation industry appears to be bearing fruit, with the IRS recording big declines since 2015 in the number of reported and confirmed cases of phony returns. But the fraudsters are fighting back, developing new ways to use your tax info to enrich themselves.
As with identity theft scams generally, it pays to be proactive in safeguarding personal data. But if you are victimized by tax ID fraud, call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 and notify your state tax agency.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud.