While we may never truly know how many Americans have been the victim of identity theft, one thing is for sure, just about everyone knows someone, or is that someone who has been affected.  

With tax season now in full swing, the Internal Revenue Service says that it expects to process 153 million returns this year.

Taxpayers will have until April 18, 2017, to file and pay their taxes this year.  April 15th falls on a Saturday this year, which would normally give taxpayers until the following Monday.  Since a D.C. holiday, Emancipation Day, falls on April 17th, this gives all taxpayers an extra day to file.

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According to irs.gov, “in 2015, the IRS reportedly stopped 1.4 million confirmed identity theft returns and protected $8.7 billion of your tax dollars.”  The numbers are staggering but there is hope! 

Tax-related identity theft is when someone uses your stolen social security number to file a fraudulent income tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.

So what is the IRS doing to protect identity theft-related refund fraud? 

The Security Summit, an IRS task force designed to curtail identity theft, has been working behind the scenes to establish stronger protections for taxpayers and the tax system for the 2017 tax filing season.  

Just know that there are many safeguards which have been put into place that will tackle tax-related identity theft from all angles.  The taxpayer may not be privy to the new security measures but new security requirements were designed to more effectively protect taxpayer’s personal information and tax software accounts.

There are certain measures you can take now to safeguard your identity.  

Here are 5 things you can do to protect your identity during tax season.

Secure All Personal Records – Shred all documents with your personal address, bank account and social security numbers, birth date, and any other sensitive information.  Do not provide sensitive information via email or via text message.  Leave your social security card at home and do not routinely carry it in your purse or wallet.  Be sure to install the latest anti-virus/anti-spam software and firewall to protect your computer data.  Periodically change internet passwords.

Beware of Scams – Beware of anyone purporting to be the IRS in a threatening phone call or email demanding that you make payment or face a lawsuit or be arrested.  The IRS will normally communicate with you in correspondence in the mail.  Beware of companies posing as your bank or credit card providers.  When in doubt, hang up and call the company back directly! Do not download attachments or click links from any unfamiliar email sources.

Educate Yourself – The IRS has launched an educational awareness campaign “Our Taxes. Security. Together. “ on the importance of securing your sensitive information online and at home.   Visit https://www.irs.gov/individuals/taxes-security-together for more details on this initiative. 

Speak Up –You must do your part to help the IRS identify tax schemes and alleged criminals.  If you receive suspicious phone calls and emails that you believe to be fraudulent, report them.  You can visit irs.gov and click on How to Report Suspicious Tax Fraud Activity.

Report Identity Theft to IRS – If you suddenly file your income tax return and find out that someone else has filed a return using your social security number, chances are you have been a victim of identity theft! 

The IRS recommends the following five steps:

“File your taxes by paper and pay any taxes owed.

“File an IRS Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit.  Print the form and mail or fax it according to the instructions.  You may include it with your paper return.”

“File a report with the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC Complaint Assistant.”

“Contact one of the three credit bureaus so they can place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your account.”

File a police report.

Carletta Beckwith CPA LLC is a firm that provides premiere income tax preparation, tax planning, and financial planning services. Carletta Beckwith is a licensed CPA and CFP and shares her extensive industry knowledge to deliver superior customer service and personalized attention to her clients.  To learn more about the services she provides visit www.beckwithcpa.com.