Keeping Your Tax Identity Safe

With all the focus on the holidays and the excitement at this time of year, the last thing most people are thinking about is their tax returns. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what tax refund thieves are counting on. They know you’ve had a busy December and are looking forward to a little downtime in the first few weeks of the new year, and besides, it’s not like you have to file before April 15th, right?

Not exactly. Sure, the official government deadline for filing your tax return isn’t until the spring, but identity thieves are already plotting their move to steal your tax identity. In fact, some of them aren’t even waiting that long.

Diana* reached out to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s call center for help after discovering someone had filed a tax return using her father’s Social Security number. The issue? Her father passed away a year ago. Despite having informed the Social Security Administration about his passing, his account wasn’t flagged before a thief was able to file the return, thereby committing fraud with her father’s information. Diana had to endure a lengthy process as his executor and heir in order to resolve the matter and shut down his credit report.

There are a few things you can do to prevent a criminal from getting to your tax refund first, but it’s important to remember that speed is a big factor in preventing this crime. The following tips will help any citizen come filing time, but are especially important for anyone who’s ever been a victim of identity theft or a large-scale data breach:

  • First, establish a place where all of your upcoming documents will go. You don’t want to have to hunt down a statement or form when you’re ready to file your taxes, so having a folder to place these things in as they arrive in the mail will mean never misplacing them.
  • Next, gather all of your important documentation in the weeks leading up to January (don’t worry, it’s not too late!) and put those in your organized folder as well. That way, as more pieces of 2015 documentation arrive, you’ll have all of them in one secure place. You’ll be receiving things like W2 forms, daycare expense reports, and bank account interest statements soon, but you may already have things like paperwork from the sale of a house, receipts from charitable donations, student loan debt information, and other pieces of paper that you’ll need for your itemized deductions.
  • Of course, you’ll need last year’s tax return in order to file this year’s, as well as certain things like your proof of medical coverage. If you have these things ready to go, there will be less delay when you’re ready to file. Less delay means less of a chance that an identity thief can beat you to the punch.
  • Finally, if you’re going to prepare your tax return yourself, now is a great time to decide which tax prep software you might use and then to become familiar with it. The IRS worked with these software developers all year long to make some crucial security changes, so it’s a good idea to start early with your software and setup or re-establish your account.

Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week will take place at the end of January, which coincides with the month-long deadline most organizations have to provide you with your documentation. The FTC’s website can offer you support and information on how to prevent tax identity theft, as well as tell you some of the warning signs that your tax return may already be in danger.