Protect Yourself from Tax Identity Theft

You might not be thinking about your 2015 tax return, but identity thieves are. Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone steals your Social Security number and files a tax return before you do to claim a fraudulent refund in your name. The rewards for these thieves are huge: According to a U.S. Government Accounting Office report, in 2013 (the most recent data available), the IRS paid $5.8 billion in refunds that were later determined to be fraudulent.

Tax-related ID theft is a stealthy crime. You might not be aware that you’ve been victimized until you e-file your return and discover that a return has already been filed using your Social Security number. Or you might send in your return and receive a letter from the IRS saying that a return was already filed for you.

To raise consumer awareness about the threat of tax identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission is holding Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week (January 25-29). The events listed below (all times are Eastern) are designed to help you understand the nature of the crime, minimize your risk of becoming a victim, and learn what to do if thieves have stolen your refund. The events include:

  • January 26, 2 p.m.: A Federal Trade Commission webinar explains how tax identity theft happens and what you can do if it happens to you. 
  • January 27, 11 a.m.: A Twitter chat shares information about tax identity theft for veterans. Join the conversation at #VeteranIDTheft.
  • January 28, 1 p.m.: The FTC and the IRS co-host a webinar with information to help victims of tax identity theft.
  • January 29, 2 p.m.: The FTC and the Identity Theft Resource Center co-host a Twitter chat about tax ID theft. Join the conversation at #IDTheftChat.

In addition, the FTC offers educational materials on the topic, available free of charge. The materials are published in English and Spanish.

Avoiding Tax Scams

Fraud involving IRS impersonators spikes during tax season. Remember:

  • The IRS never asks for personal or financial information via email, text, or social media, and it will never contact you by phone to demand payment. Report suspicious email.
  • The agency will never ask for credit-card numbers over the phone, require payment without allowing you to question it or appeal, or threaten you with arrest for nonpayment.
  • Report fraud to the IRS by filling out this IRS form or calling 800-366-4484.

Copyright © 2005-2016 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.