A recent report of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) had some good news in regard to what it estimated was the amount of income tax identity theft that the IRS had been able to stop prior to paying money to the income tax identity thieves. Unfortunately, the report also had bad news as it estimated that at least 2.24 billion dollars was paid in 2015 by the IRS to income tax identity thieves and this figure is most likely quite a bit less than the real figure. Income tax identity theft, by which identity thieves file phony income tax returns with counterfeit W-2s using the Social Security number and name of their victims is still a major problem for the IRS and taxpayers costing us all billions of dollars each year. However, when someone has stolen your Social Security number and filed an income tax return using your name, the problem becomes particularly personal.
While you may think that income tax identity theft is a problem that only occurs around the April 15th filing date, it is actually a problem throughout the year. The IRS recently issued a warning about a number of phishing emails that appear legitimate with the subject line reading “reminder” or “Automatic Income Tax Reminder” that lure people into providing personal information that will lead to their becoming a victim of identity theft. These phishing emails may be particularly convincing and contain not only the IRS logo, but personal information about you that may trick you into thinking the email is legitimate.
The most important thing to remember is that the IRS will not initiate any communications with you by email, text message or phone. Their logo is easy to counterfeit and any personal information in the phishing email was probably gathered through data breaches in which the information about you was stolen. Never provide personal information in response to an email, text message or phone call that purports to be from the IRS. If you have any thought that the communication may be legitimate, call the IRS a the numbers indicated here which also let you know what information you will need to confirm your identity. https://www.irs.gov/help/telephone-assistance
In addition to protecting the privacy of your Social Security number, the best thing you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of income tax identity theft is to file your income tax return as early as possible. A criminal can successfully make you a victim of income tax identity theft only if he or she files an income tax return using your Social Security number before you file your legitimate income tax return. Therefore the earlier you file your income tax return, the more likely you are to avoid becoming a victim of this crime. Recently the IRS announced that it will begin accepting income tax returns on January 27th.
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