How To Get Your Tax Refund If You’re the Victim of Identity Theft
Unfortunately, we are vulnerable to the actions of computer hackers and other fraudsters determined to access our personal financial data for their gain. That includes our tax returns.
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Tax identity theft falls into a category of its own, and your tax returns — and refunds — could be compromised. But how will you know? And will someone else get your long-awaited refund instead of you?
Read on to learn the signs of tax identity theft and what you need to do to make sure your refund winds up in your hands.
Identity Theft Schemes
Identity thieves can swipe your information in a number of ways, from a “phishing” scheme — where fraudsters contact you directly to fish for data — to more sophisticated hacking, such as the theft of employee payroll info. And they can use that information in a number of ways, including to file a fraudulent tax return in your name and try to snatch a refund.
Texts or Emails
Scammers might reach out to you directly through an email or a text message to ask questions about things such as your filing status or to “verify” your personal data. No matter how official the communication might look, it’s a giant red flag, according to the IRS. The agency doesn’t use social media, email or text messages to discuss individual tax issues or debts, or to verify your identity. Don’t respond, the IRS warns.
You also might get a call from someone posing as an IRS representative who offers you an identification number — likely a phony one, the IRS says — and could employ tactics that definitely don’t reflect the way the IRS operates, according to the agency.
The IRS says it’s a sure sign of phishing, or fraud, if the person who contacts you:
- Demands you pay taxes immediately. The IRS tries to collect by mail.
- Demands you pay immediately via prepaid debit card, gift card or another specified method. If you know you owe back taxes, the right way to pay is via check or via the IRA website.
- Makes threats to report you to police or immigration officials if you don’t pay your taxes.
Am I a Victim?
You might not know you’ve been a victim of tax-related identity theft until the IRS alerts you about suspicious activity or if you try, and fail, to electronically file your tax return. That likely will happen if the IRS already has received a return using your Social Security number. The tax system will reject your filing.
Other signs that someone has committed fraud where your taxes are concerned, according to the IRS:
- Receiving a letter from the IRS about a tax return that has been flagged as suspicious
- Receiving other notices from the IRS notifying you that an online account in your name has been created or that your existing online account has been disabled or accessed
- Getting a tax transcript you didn’t order
- Being assigned an Employer Identification Number you didn’t request
The Next Step
If you try to file your tax return and it’s rejected, you’ll need to print a paper copy and mail it to the IRS, postmarked by the due date. You also must print and sign IRS Form 14039 — the Identity Theft Affidavit — and attach it to your return to inform the IRS that you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
Once the IRS receives this form, agents will verify that you are the legitimate taxpayer and process your return — and your refund, if you’re eligible, will be on its way to you when the process is complete. It could take some time.
The IRS also will enroll you in its identity protection program and issue a PIN to you each year. You’ll use that number when filing your return.
If you have been a victim of tax identity theft, you also should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, contact your banks and credit card issuers to verify accounts and purchases, and notify the three main credit-reporting agencies so they can attach a fraud alert to your records.
If you believe a scam artist tried to contact you, purporting to be the IRS, also notify the FTC through its website.
Identity theft is unnerving — especially when it comes to your taxes. Remember to take extra caution if you’re contacted by the IRS in any manner other than official mail. If you suspect anything is amiss, contact the IRS yourself to ask whether there is a problem with your account.
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