The Internal Revenue Service officially started accepting 2017 tax returns at the end of January. While many of us may put off filing until April, there’s at least one good reason to file as soon as possible: tax identity theft.
What’s tax identity theft? The most common example is when someone files a tax return using your stolen Social Security number to get a tax refund. You don’t know that it happened until the IRS tells you that they received more than one tax return filed with your Social Security number. Tax identity theft is one of the most common forms of identity theft, claiming more than half a million victims in 2015.
Recent data breaches have made it easier for identity thieves to acquire Social Security numbers. Scammers can also get your personal information by stealing your mail, sending phony emails or through deceptive or dishonest tax preparers, service providers or even caregivers.
While anyone can be a target of this type of identity theft, seniors may be more susceptible. Older adults are often more trusting and open and can be more dependent on others for assistance, opening them up to risk.
No matter our age, there are things we can do to lessen the chance of falling victim to tax identity fraud. The first is to file your tax return early, before identity thieves have a chance to fraudulently file. You should also mail your tax return directly from the post office, rather than your home mailbox.
If you have drafts of your tax return, don’t just throw them away. Make sure to shred them. And, of course, always be careful when giving out your Social Security and Medicare ID numbers — don’t reveal these sensitive digits unless you know the need is legitimate.
What should you do if the IRS contacts you about possible tax identity theft? Don’t panic. If the IRS sends you a letter, respond as quickly as possible.
Know that if the IRS needs information from you, it will contact you by postal mail. The IRS won’t contact you by email, text or social media. And finally, if you believe that your Social Security number has been compromised, call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
Want to know more? Your local Area Agency on Aging has resources and information on how seniors can protect themselves from identity theft and other scams. You can call the Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida’s Helpline at 1-866-41-ELDER to request materials or a presentation on these topics and other forms of financial abuse and fraud.
The more we all know about these types of scams, the better our chances of avoiding them.
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