The tax filing process is a complicated nuisance for most people. If your identity is stolen, it can become a nightmare.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the IRS reported 248,357 incidents of tax-related identity fraud in 2010, up 380 percent since 2007. (ref 2)
None involved a direct theft of information from the IRS. Instead, most identity thieves used Social Security numbers and other identifying info stolen from other sources to commit employment fraud or steal tax refunds.
Both forms of fraud can cause major problems for legitimate taxpayers.
For example, if a thief uses your Social Security number to file for your refund and you file for the same refund later, the IRS will red flag your return. The result: Months of delay while the IRS sorts out the mess. If a thief uses your Social Security number to get a job, the IRS will accuse you of underreporting your income when you file your return, since the fraudulent worker’s income is reported with yours. The result again: Confusion and delay in processing your return.
You can follow a few simple rules to help protect yourself. Never give your Social Security number to an unsolicited caller and never provide your Social Security number or any other personal information in response to an unsolicited email, especially if it comes from a the IRS, a bank or a credit card company – none of those entities will ever ask for such personal information via email.
If someone trolls for your private information through a fake IRS email – a process known as phishing – you can report the attempt at email@example.com. If you think your personal information may already have been stolen, contact the IRS through its identity protection page.
- Internal Revenue Service: What is Phishing?
- U.S. Government Accountability Office: Taxes and Identity Theft: Status of IRS Initiatives to Help Victimized Taxpayers
- Internal Revenue Service: Identity Protection Page