Tax fraud is one of the most common forms of identity theft. You don’t want tax season to be any more complicated than it has to be, and you also don’t want someone messing with your personal information.
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Sometimes you have no control over the situation: Perhaps your Social Security number was stolen in a data breach, sold on the black market and used to file a false tax return. Or perhaps your tax documents were sent to the wrong address, and the recipient then had all the info needed to file a fraudulent return in your name.
Update Your Address
Employers have until the end of January to send your W-2, so if you haven’t gotten one by now, it’s time to ask questions. If you talk to your employer and find out someone sent your form to the wrong address, have them re-send the W-2 to your correct address immediately. If you don’t have time to wait for the new form, you can file Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement.
“If it does happen, it’s usually the employee’s fault,” said Brett Montgomery, fraud operations manager at IDentity Theft 911. Employers will send the W-2 to the address they have on file, and if it’s incorrect, it’s often because the employee didn’t notify anyone of the change in address. If your tax forms were sent to the wrong mailbox (which isn’t that common, according to Montgomery), think about your actions before you blame someone else for the mistake.
“It’s normally considered valid, whether you get it or not, if they mailed it to the last known address,” said Dan Pilla, an expert in IRS procedures and tax resolution. That means saying “I didn’t get my W-2″ isn’t an excuse for making a mistake on your tax return or missing the filing deadline.
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Identity Theft Concerns
After contacting your employer about getting a new W-2, you need to call the Internal Revenue Service, and you’re going to need to provide a lot of information, according to Montgomery. They’ll ask you for your basic personal information, your employer’s address and phone number, your dates of employment and an estimate of your wages from the previous year. You may be able to get a Taxpayer Identification Number if your tax forms got into the wrong hands, and you’re concerned about someone filing a fraudulent return.
Either way, you’ll want to file your return as soon as possible, Montgomery said, because if the crook beats you to it, the second return (yours) is the one that will get flagged by the IRS.
You may also want to consider monitoring your credit moving forward, since an identity thief can do more than just steal your refund using the information on a tax form. You can pay for a credit monitoring service, or use a tool like the Credit Report Card, which updates two of your credit scores for free every month. Any major, unexpected changes in your scores could signal identity theft and you should pull and examine your free credit reports immediately.
Getting It Right
If you filed your tax return before realizing you didn’t get your W-2, you’ll need to amend your return using Form 1040X.
To prevent going through all of this, you’ll want to make sure you update your current address with your employer and the IRS, whenever it changes. Change-of-address forms through the U.S. Postal Service don’t necessarily update your address with the IRS, which has its own form.
Even if it’s not your fault — say someone in your workplace made a mistake and sent your paperwork elsewhere — you don’t have recourse against your employer, Pilla said. It’s up to you to make sure you can file an accurate tax return.
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