Most folks are probably glad to see Tax Day extended to May 15 this year.
It’s a welcome boon to harried taxpayers. But identity thieves never sleep, and identity theft happens throughout the year. That’s the word this week from Jay Smith, a local financial adviser for Edward Jones Investments.
As Smith noted, some identity thieves are particularly active during the tax-filing season.
“How can you protect yourself?” he rhetorically asked. “One of the most important moves you can make is to be suspicious of requests by people or entities claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service. You may receive phone calls, texts and e-mails. But these types of communication are often just “phishing” scams with one goal in mind: to capture your personal information. These phishers can be quite clever, sending e-mails that appear to contain the IRS logo or making calls that may even seem to be coming from the IRS. Don’t open any links or attachments to the e-mails, and don’t answer the calls. And don’t be alarmed if the caller leaves a vaguely threatening voice mail, either asking for personal information, such as your Social Security number, or informing you of some debts you supposedly owe to the IRS that must be taken care of immediately.
“In reality,” he continued, “the IRS will not initiate contact with you by phone, e-mail, text message or social media to request personal or financial information or to inquire about issues pertaining to your tax returns. Instead, the agency will first send you a letter. And if you’re unsure of the legitimacy of such a letter, contact the IRS directly.”
Smith cited the IRS’s telephone number of 1-800-829-1040.
“Of course,” he added, “not all scam artists are fake IRS representatives. Some will pass themselves off as tax-preparers. Fortunately, most tax-preparers are honest. But it’s not too hard to find the dishonest ones that might ask you to sign a blank return, promise you a big refund before looking at your records or try to charge a fee based on the percentage of your return. Legitimate tax-preparers will make no grand promises and will explain their fees up-front. Before hiring people to do your taxes, find out their qualifications. The IRS provides some valuable tips for choosing a reputable tax-preparer, but you can also ask your friends and relatives for referrals.
“Another tax scam to watch out for is the fraudulent tax return,” he continued, “that is, someone filing a return in your name. To do so, a scammer would need your name, birth date and Social Security number. If you’re already providing two of these pieces of information––your name and birth date on social media, and you also include your place of birth––you could be making it easier for scam artists to somehow get the third. It’s a good idea to check your privacy settings and limit what you’re sharing publicly. You might also want to use a nickname and omit your last name, birthday and place of birth.”
Another more defensive measure that Smith cited is filing your taxes as soon as you can.
“Identity thieves often strike early in the tax season,” he said, “so they can file their bogus returns before their victims.”
To learn more about tax scams, Smith recommends you consult the IRS Website (www.irs.gov) and search for the “Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft.” This document describes some signs of identity theft and provides tips for what to do if you are victimized.
“It’s unfortunate that identity theft exists,” said Smith. “But by taking the proper precautions, you can help insulate yourself from this threat, even when tax season is over.”