Learning you are a victim of identity theft can be a stressful event. Identity theft is also a challenge to businesses, organizations. Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.
Many times, you may not be aware that someone has stolen your identity. The IRS may be the first to let you know you’re a victim of ID theft after you try to file your taxes.
Over the past few years, nearly 3,000 people were convicted in connection with refund fraud related to identity theft. The average prison sentence for identity theft-related tax refund fraud grew to 43 months in 2015 from 38 months in 2014, with the longest sentence being 27 years. During 2015, the IRS stopped more than $15 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft. Additionally, as the IRS improves its processing filters, the agency has also been able to halt more suspicious returns before they are processed.
- Protect your Records. Do not carry your Social Security card or other documents with your SSN on them. Only provide your SSN if it’s necessary and you know the person requesting it. Protect your persona information at home and protect your computers with anti-spam and anti-virus software. Routinely change passwords for Internet accounts.
- Don’t Fall for Scams. The IRS will not call you to demand immediate payment, nor will it call about taxes owed without first mailing you a bill beware of threatening calls from someone claiming to be from the IRS. If you have no reason to believe you owe taxes, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484.
- Report ID Theft to Law Enforcement. If your SSN was compromised and you think you may be the victim of tax-related ID theft, file a police report. You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant. It’s also important to contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a freeze on your account.
- Complete an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Once you’ve filed a police report, file an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit. Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions. Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.
- Understand IRS Notices. Once the IRS verifies a taxpayer’s identity, the agency will mail a particular letter to the taxpayer. The notice says that the IRS is monitoring the taxpayer’s account. Some notices may contain a unique Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) for tax filing purposes.
- IP PINs. If a taxpayer reports that they are a victim of ID theft or the IRS identifies a taxpayer as being a victim, they will be issued an IP PIN. The IP PIN is a unique six-digit number that a victim of ID theft uses to file a tax return. In 2014, the IRS launched an IP PIN Pilot program. The program offers residents of Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., the opportunity to apply for an IP PIN, due to high levels of tax-related identity theft there.
- Data Breaches. If you learn about a data breach that may have compromised your personal information, keep in mind not every data breach results in identity theft. Further, not every identity theft case involves taxes. Make sure you know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps before contacting the IRS.
- Report Suspicious Activity. If you suspect or know of an individual or business that is committing tax fraud.
If you’re still keeping old tax returns and receipts stuffed in a shoe box stuck in the back of the closet, you might want to rethink that approach.
The IRS has teamed up with state revenue departments and the tax industry to make sure you understand the dangers to your personal and financial data.
You should keep your tax records safe and secure, whether they are stored on paper or kept electronically. The same is true for any financial or health records you store, especially any document bearing Social Security numbers.
You should keep always keep copies of your tax returns and supporting documents for several years to support claims for tax credits and deductions.
Because of the sensitive data, the loss or theft of these documents could lead to identity theft and have an economic impact. These documents contain the Social Security numbers of you, your spouse and dependents, old W-2 income and bank account information. A burglar could easily turn your old shoe box full of documents into a tax-related identity theft crime.
Here are just a few of the easy and practical steps to better protect your tax records:
- Always retain a copy of your completed federal and state tax returns and their supporting materials. These prior-year returns will help you prepare your next year’s taxes, and receipts will document any credits or deductions you claim should question arise later.
- If you retain paper records, you should keep them in a secure location, preferably under lock and key, such as a secure desk drawer or a safe.
- If you retain you records electronically on your computer, you should always have an electronic back-up, in case your hard drive crashes. You should encrypt the files both on your computer and any back-up drives you use. You may have to purchase encryption software to ensure the files’ security.
- Dispose of old tax records properly. Never toss paper tax returns and supporting documents into the trash. Your federal and state tax records, as well as any financial or health records should be shredded before disposal.
- If you are disposing of an old computer or back-up hard drive, keep in mind there is sensitive data on these. Deleting stored tax files will not remove them from your computer. You should wipe the drives of any electronic product you trash or sell, including tablets and mobile phones, to ensure you remove all personal data. Again, this may require special disk utility software.
- The IRS recommends retaining copies of your tax returns and supporting documents for a minimum of three years to a maximum of seven years. Remember to keep records relating to property you own for three to seven years after the year in which you dispose of the property. Three years is a timeframe that allows you to file amended returns, or if questions arise on your tax return, and seven years is a timeframe that allows filing a claim for adjustment in a case of bad debt deduction or a loss from worthless securities.