It’s early on a Friday evening. You happily bounded home from work, took your family out for a nice dinner, and sent the kids off to the high school basketball game.
You sit down at your computer, surrounded by the neat stacks of paper you carefully gathered throughout the week. It’s time to file your taxes.
You’re pretty excited because you’ve already guesstimated a decent refund. One that will pay for an enjoyable weeklong vacation on the beach this summer.
After about two hours answering questions and confirming your entries, you click the “File My Returns” button. “Soon,” you smile to yourself, “my bank account will be a little fatter.” Then you scurry off to watch TV.
Monday evening you check your email. To your horror, the subject lines declares your tax return was rejected.
Curiosity and anger fill your mind as you carefully read the message. The IRS says your tax return had already been filed and a refund deposited into your bank account.
Reality sets in: your long-awaited tax refund has been stolen.
In 2013, nearly $6.5 billion in tax refunds were fraudulently paid out by the IRS. Experts expect that number to grow to nearly $21 billion this year.
So how can you prevent cybercriminals from stealing money the government needs to return to you? (After all, a tax refund is an interest-free loan you’ve made to the government by overpaying your taxes throughout the year.)
Protect your SSN
Your name and Social Security number are the only two items a thief needs to claim your refund.
This makes safeguarding your Social Security number so critically important. You can do this by:
- Never carrying your Social Security card or any other document containing it on your physical person.
- Only giving out your Social Security number when it’s absolutely required. See this online article for information on who can lawfully request your Social Security Number: http://www.identityhawk.com/Who-Can-Lawfully-Request-My-Social-Security-Number.
Obtain An IRS IP PIN
Despite the obvious flaws in the government’s fraud-prevention systems, the IRS does provide certain individuals the ability to obtain an Identity Protection PIN.
This PIN is a six-digit number assigned to you that prevents someone else from using your Social Security number to file a federal tax return. Note that it has no effect on state tax returns.
You’re eligible for an IRS Identity Protection PIN if you have been the victim of identity theft. You can also obtain a PIN if the IRS mailed you a letter stating you can obtain one or if you filed your last year’s federal tax return with a Florida, Georgia or Washington, D.C. address.
File Your Taxes ASAP
The sooner you take the time to file your taxes, the less opportunity you give cybercriminals to file your taxes for you – and getting paid handsomely to do it!
Identity theft and the crimes committed as its result are an unfortunate, yet common, part of the online world in which we live. I encourage you to be vigilant and to take the precautionary measures necessary to protect your personal information.