For most of us the 2014 tax filing season is over. If you recently filed your return, but have not yet received your refund, you need to be vigilant on keeping track of your refund status, because tax Identity theft continues to be a real problem. For example, you may have filed your tax return, only to find out that one has already been filed with your social security number!
If you haven’t received your refund yet or a letter from the IRS explaining the delay, go to www.IRS.gov “Where’s My Refund”. You will need your social security number, your filing status and your exact refund amount. The site is updated every 24 hours. If you electronically filed your tax return, you should be able to start checking 24 hours after your return has been accepted. If you mailed your return, the IRS advises to check 4 weeks after you mailed in your paper return.
If you find that a refund was already issued, but not to you, what steps should you take? The IRS recommends the following actions be taken: 1) File a police report; 2) File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov or call their hotline at 877-438-4338; 3) Contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or Transunion) to place a fraud alert on your credit reports; 4) Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. You can complete a fillable form at IRS.gov and then print, mail or fax to them. Go to http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p5199.pdf
If you know tax ID theft has occurred and followed the above steps with no resolution, you can contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490.
While completing the above steps is necessary, unfortunately it does not speed up the resolution process of getting your money. The IRS will tell you it will take 180 days to resolve the issue. However, a report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) found that on average it took the IRS 278 days to close the cases that it resolved in 2013.
Once you’ve been a victim of tax ID theft, the IRS will issue you a six-digit Identity Protection PIN number for you to use in filing tax returns once your identity theft issue has been resolved. You will get a new PIN number each year. Even if you are not sure that you have been a victim of tax ID theft, but know your personal information has been compromised elsewhere (what is commonly referred to these days as a data breach) you should still complete the IRS form 14039 Affidavit to request a PIN number. By filing the form, at least the IRS knows your identity may have been compromised.
Remember, the IRS does not contact taxpayers by email or phone. No matter how legitimate the emails look or the caller sounds – THESE ARE SCAMS! Do not respond to these bogus emails or phone calls. The IRS will contact you by mail regarding any tax return discrepancies or additional tax information that they want from you.
Unfortunately, we cannot prevent Identity theft from occurring but we can take steps to lower the odds that we will become an identity theft victim. Here are some quick tips:
• Always shred mail and paperwork with any personal information on it. This includes bank statements, credit card statements and those annoying “you’ve been pre-approved” credit card mailings.
• Don’t keep any of your PIN numbers in your purse or wallet; and don’t keep all your credit/debit cards with you. If your purse or wallet is stolen you won’t have to make as many calls to cancel bank accounts or credit cards. Also, never keep your social security card with you.
• Review your credit report at least once a year for any fraudulent activity. You can obtain a free credit report from the three credit reporting agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com.
• Always review the transactions on your monthly bank and credit card statements, and if you see any charges that are not yours, report them to the bank or credit card company immediately.
• Do not give any personal information to anyone over the phone, unless you absolutely have to, and you know that it is a legitimate caller. I’ve received calls from my credit card company and car leasing company in the past and would not give any information to them. I would call the phone number on the back of my card or statement to see if they really called – you just never know!
Keeping your identity and credit information safe is becoming more important every day as identity thieves find lots of new ways to steal your information without you even knowing it. Taking some time now to follow these tips can save you a lot of grief in the future.