How to Prevent Identity Theft During 2014 Tax Season
California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris asks Californians to keep a keen eye on their tax filing process in order to prevent identity theft.
Identity theft in California increases in January and often occurs when:
- Identity-thieving tax schemers use stolen personal information to file tax returns in someone else’s name in order to obtain a refund.
- Schemers use a stolen Social Security number (SSN) for employment, which may complicate income tax obligations for the victims
- Schemers send phishing emails that look like they are from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Franchise Tax Board (FTB).
Californians are urged to use these tips to better prevent tax-related identity theft:
- Do not answer emails from the IRS. State and federal tax agencies never get in contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media to request personal or financial information or to send notice regarding audits or refunds.
- If you feel you need to check if one is real (it very probably isn’t), call the IRS and ask: (800) 829-1040.
- Passwords are important and should be extremely hard to guess (not “password,” or “1234567,” or your birth date). Change them frequently. A strong password is at least eight characters and includes a combination of at least three upper and/or lowercase letters, symbols, punctuation and numerals.
- Use common sense. Don’t toss old tax returns or bank statement in the trash without shredding them. Don’t click on suspicious-looking links in your email.
- If you are sending it by U.S. mail, never leave it in an unlocked mailbox. Always use registered or certified mail.
- For e-filers, don’t use a public computer. Check your computer for any viruses.
- Once you have e-filed your return, save it to a flash drive or CD and then delete the tax information from your hard drive.
- Use a locked mailbox and don’t leave your mail in it for long periods of time.
- If your SSN is stolen, follow instructions on what to do: www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft/first-aid.
You could have a tax identity theft problem if you receive a letter from the IRS or FTB stating the following:
- someone has already filed using your information,
- you filed more than one tax return,
- you received wages from an employer for whom you have not worked or,
- you have a balance due, refund offset or have had collection actions taken against you for a year in which you did not file a return.
If you receive such a letter (not an email) from the IRS or FTB, immediately contact the identity theft unit:
Internal Revenue Service: email@example.com
IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit
California Franchise Tax Board: https://www.ftb.ca.gov/online/Fraud_Referral/index.shtml
ID Theft Resolution Coordinator
Internal Revenue Service
Identity Theft web pages: www.irs.gov/uac/Suspicious-e-Mails-and-Identity-Theft
California Attorney General
Identity Theft Protection and First Aid: https://oag.ca.gov/idtheft
Tax related identity theft is really no different from other forms of identity theft, like credit card fraud. The bad guys are most likely to try to get your digits by persuading you to give them up through “phishing”, masquerading as a trustworthy person or organization online or in an email.
It’s not easy to be ever vigilant, but it is necessary.