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BBB Advises: File Income Tax Return Early, Lower Your Risk of Identity Theft

Better Business Bureau advises consumers to file their 2013 income tax returns as soon as possible to avoid losing a refund to an identity thief. With all of the personal information contained in tax documents, criminals will try every trick in the book to obtain these documents in order to get Social Security numbers and intercept refunds.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reports a 66 percent increase in its investigations into this kind of crime in 2013 over the previous year.

Tax identity theft victims typically find out about the crime when they get a letter from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed in the their name, or IRS records show they received wages from an employer they don't know. The criminals accomplish this by stealing personal information or applying for employment in the victim's name and claiming a refund. Once their work is done, a legitimate refund request will be denied. Undoing the damage and receiving the refund can take months.

Personal information can be obtained by going through trash, stealing documents from mailboxes and sending emails that look like they originate from the IRS. In some cases, dishonest tax preparers misuse clients' information or sell it to identity thieves.

To lessen the chance you'll be a victim:

• File your tax return early in the tax season, before identity thieves do.

• Use only a secure Internet connection if you file electronically. Don't use publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots at places like coffee shops or hotel lobbies.

• Shred copies of your tax return, drafts or calculation sheets you no longer need.

• If you intend to mail your tax return, put it in a USPS mailbox or drop it off at the post office, to prevent it from being intercepted from your roadside mailbox.

• Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.

• Remember that the IRS won't contact you by email, text or social media. If the IRS needs information, they will contact you by mail.

• Don't leave W-2's in unsecure locations like your office or car.

• Get recommendations and research a tax preparer thoroughly at bbb.org before you hand over personal information.

• Don't give out your Social Security or Medicare number unless necessary. Ask why it's needed, how it's going to be used and how it will be stored.

• Check your credit report at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.  Remember, Georgia consumers are entitled to two free copies of their credit reports each year. 

If you discover a website that claims to be the IRS but does not begin with 'www.irs.gov', forward that link to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

More Helpful Information:

Identity Protection Tips:
http://www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection 

Tips for Taxpayers, Victims about Identity Theft and Tax Returns:
http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/Tips-for-Taxpayers,-Victims-about-Identity-Theft-and-Tax-Returns-2014

Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft:
http://www.irs.gov/uac/Taxpayer-Guide-to-Identity-Theft

What to do if you’re a victim of identity theft:http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

kfbates1971 February 28, 2014 at 04:12 PM
I filed my taxes early and the IRS is still holding my refund. After waiting the 21 days that irs.gov states you need to wait before calling them and after several failed attempts to reach a "live" person, I finally spoke with an agent who informs me that since I was previously a victim of identity fraud that they put a hold on my refund check. He continues to tell me that I will receive a letter from the IRS in the mail and will have to submit proof of identity. All this to protect me against ID theft? Seems to me that I'm further victimized by this new "protection"...
Dottie Callina March 01, 2014 at 12:34 PM
I am so sorry for your circumstances. First to be a victim of I.D. theft and then having to deal with the IRS. I don't know if it will help but I've copied a page from irs.gov that is supposed to give people an advocate with IRS problems. If you can think of any way I can help you with this matter, please email me at dcallina@atlanta.bbb.org. I wish you the best of luck. http://www.irs.gov/Advocate/Local-Taxpayer-Advocate/Contact-Your-Local-Taxpayer-Advocate!
kfbates1971 March 01, 2014 at 08:31 PM
Ms. Callina, thank you kindly for your response. I appreciate your time. I will check into your suggestions and see how it goes.
Dottie Callina March 03, 2014 at 11:48 AM
It was my pleasure to assist you. I do hope everything turns out well.

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