Guest Columnist

Don't let identity thieves steal your tax refund

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 1040 Individual Income Tax forms on Feb. 17, 2016. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/TNS)
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 1040 Individual Income Tax forms on Feb. 17, 2016. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/TNS)

Bill Brauch, guest columnist

April 15 is right around the corner, and we all want to file our tax returns on time. What we don’t want is to learn that someone already filed for us and tried to claim our refunds.

Since 2000, tax-related identity theft has grown significantly. The IRS, the Iowa Department of Revenue, state and federal consumer protection agencies, and taxpayers have all fought back. But tax-related identity theft remains a threat.

Identity thieves may try to steal an income tax refund by using the taxpayer’s Social Security number to file a tax return. Similarly, they may use a victim’s SSN to earn wages that are reported to the IRS as the victim’s income, thereby avoiding paying taxes themselves on the earnings.

Identity thieves get hold of Social Security numbers through various means. They make telemarketing calls to trick victims by saying they are with the IRS or some other agency and want to confirm the number. They buy Social Security numbers obtained through data breaches. They also trick victims through scam emails.

You may find out you’ve been a victim of income tax identity theft when you receive a letter from the IRS or the Iowa Department of Revenue saying more than one return was filed in your name or that you earned income you didn’t report.

If you have been notified someone has committed tax-related identity theft with your personal information report it promptly. Go to IdentityTheft.gov to complete and send the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit. By doing this, you also will file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and obtain an ID theft recovery plan. Report it, even if you just think you are a victim but haven’t gotten confirmation.

Do not delay filing your income tax returns. Though you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft, you are still obligated to file your returns on time.

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Unfortunately, tax-related identity theft affects Iowans every year. But, you can decrease the chances you will become a victim by filing your return as early as possible. Also, avoid giving personal information to someone who calls or emails you unexpectedly and says they are with the IRS. The IRS will generally only contact you by mail. If you are mailing your return, place it in a postal mail box — do not leave it in your home mailbox to be picked up by the mail carrier. Finally, when filing your return online, make sure you are using a secure server and never file your tax return while connected through public Wi-Fi.

• Bill Brauch is director of the Iowa Identity Theft Victim Assistance Coalition. Comments: IowaIdTheft.org

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