An estimated 9 million Americans are affected by identity theft each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Although identity theft stems from a single crime (the stealing of personal information), it can take many forms. You may have heard of thieves stealing a person's PIN (personal identification number) to access a bank account or perhaps you've read about new phone scams, called vishing, in which individuals are tricked into revealing personal data, such as credit card numbers. In the spring, tax season gives criminals a new slew of opportunities for identity theft.
Stay One Step Ahead
Besides your account and credit card numbers, another piece of information coveted by identity thieves is your Social Security number. A recent trend in identity theft involves using a person's Social Security number to illegally file tax returns. Your tax record includes highly confidential information, including your full name, Social Security number, place of employment and annual income, which should only be accessed by you or a trusted tax advisor.
In the wrong hands, your Social Security number can be used by another person to obtain employment. In this case, income that is not your own will be reported to the IRS and it may appear that you didn't report all your income on your tax return. Thieves can also use your Social Security number to file an early tax return and steal your refund.
By taking certain precautions, such as keeping your Social Security card in a safe place, asking questions before giving out the number and choosing a reputable tax consultant, you can help keep your tax records private.
How to Respond
If you receive a notice from the IRS that shows discrepancies in your tax record, call the number listed in the letter for assistance. If identity theft is the root of the problem, the IRS will create a plan to help you resolve the issue.