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Tax Season is Prime Time for Potential Identity Theft

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Like many other phishing scams, identity thieves may try to take advantage of Americans filing their taxes by sending fake emails, texts or social media postings supposedly from the IRS. 

But one data security proponent at the University of Georgia is warning taxpayers to be suspicious if you receive any electronic communications from the IRS seeking your personal information.

“If you receive an email from the IRS that asks for your Social Security number, birthdate or similar personal information, or requires some sort of action on your part, it is highly likely that it is a fake,” said Laura Heilman, security awareness training and education manager. “Do not open the email or any attachments that came with it.”

The IRS only sends communications through physical mail and doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text messages or social media, she added.

If you do receive a suspicious email from the IRS, Heilman suggests not opening any attachments or links in it. You may delete the email or forward it to phishing@irs.gov for review by the IRS.

Overall, January is a prime month for identity theft because criminals may wait to use information they illegally obtained in previous months to submit a fake tax return in your name, Heilman warns. Then, criminals receive your tax refund.

“Many times the identity thieves file a return long before the legitimate taxpayer can,” she added. “It then becomes the burden of the taxpayer to prove that they are who they say they are, and that the thief was the fraudulent filer.”

The IRS says the following may be indications of tax-related identify theft:

  • You receive a letter from the IRS because more than one tax return has been filed under your name.
  • You get a notice or bill for unpaid taxes on wages you did not earn.
  • The IRS lists employers you did not work for on your record.

Any time you get a notice from the IRS in your mailbox, you should respond immediately, Heilman said.

And if you believe someone may have stolen your identity — or you suspect your Social Security number may have been used in connection with tax fraud — you may need to file IRS Form 14039, she added. That form is the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit.

“Filing this form places a flag on your tax account and minimizes the opportunity for an identity thief to collect your tax return before you can,” Heilman said.

However, the IRS warns that filing Form 14039 will significantly delay your tax refund.

If you file Form 14039 ahead of your tax return, the IRS notes that you should mail the form and required identity documentation to the address on the 14039 Form.

If mailing the form and required identification documentation with your tax return, simply mail the form and the return to your usual processing center. If you file a joint return, you do not have to file a Form 14039 for your spouse unless their personal information was also compromised.

The IRS has a Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft with additional information.

The Office of Information Security at UGA has more information on identity theft and phishing scams. The Office of Information Security is a part of the University’s Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS).