Home > 2016 > Identity Theft

Will Someone Else Be Cashing Your Tax Refund This Year?

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 0 Comments

Here is the IRS’s phone number: 800-829-1040. With an anticipated $21 billion in tax refund fraud this year, you might need it. And that figure doesn’t include losses from dodges like the IRS phone scam, which has been enjoying a renaissance of late.

IRS phone frauds aren’t terribly difficult to detect. You get a call from the IRS saying you owe money and that you must pay immediately. The threat of police intervention may or may not accompany this hot and heavy approach.

Here’s the one-step method: hang up. The IRS doesn’t call asking for money yet.

Let’s say you forget the one-step method. Here are four dead giveaways that it’s a scam:

  1. The IRS never asks for immediate payment,
  2. The agency will never bill you without giving you an opportunity to dispute the claim.
  3. Although you shouldn’t get this far into the conversation, the IRS doesn’t care how you pay, and won’t point you to a particular method.
  4. There will never be any threat involving police or marshals or prison.

If you were starting to feel a little better, stop. Think of tax refund fraud as the clever cousin of the above. It’s not at all easy to detect, or even avoid.

Tax Refund Fraud Is Getting Worse

With more than a billion personal records “out there,” identity theft has become the third certainty in life, right behind death and the topic at hand.

I write about this topic extensively, and I continue to talk about it because a knowledgeable taxpayer stands a better chance of sidestepping the tax-time pitfalls out there — especially tax refund fraud.

What Can You Do?

Unfortunately, if you become the victim of tax refund fraud, you are going to have a long road ahead before everything is resolved. It is not uncommon to wait more than six months before you get the tax refund that’s actually owed to you.

That is why it’s important to shift to a new paradigm, and act. 

  1. Assume that your data has been compromised, and proceed accordingly.
  2. File your taxes as early as possible.
  3. Read all mail from the IRS, and if there is any indication of fraud, act without delay.

What’s the bottom line here? There are myriad ways to get scammed. If your Social Security number has been compromised in a data breach (21.5 million SSNs were compromised in last year’s Office of Personnel Management breach alone, not to mention the approximately 100 million SSNs involved in healthcare breaches), then you are in the danger zone. (See the above three pieces of advice.)

What to Do If You Are a Victim of Tax Identity Theft

In addition to a big-picture discussion of what needs to happen at the federal level to stanch the bleeding of our federal treasury, my new book Swiped details what you should do if you have been the victim of tax refund fraud.

Report the crime. File a report with your local police, call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338, and the IRS at the number provided at the beginning of this column.

Request a fraud alert or credit freeze. Your Social Security number is definitely in enemy hands. Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian or TransUnion — and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit records. A credit freeze is a more comprehensive lockdown of your credit report than a fraud alert, but it’s also a bit more cumbersome. You have to request a freeze with each of the three bureaus and there may be a fee to freeze and unfreeze your credit, depending on the state where you live. No matter which option you choose, it’s important to remember this is no silver bullet and there are still other forms of identity theft you’re vulnerable to despite having a frozen credit report.

Consider enrolling in credit monitoring programs. You might wish to purchase a combination credit and fraud monitoring service, which provides instant alerts whenever anyone attempts to open a credit account in your name. This can be an effective backup to fraud alerts.

Close fraudulent accounts. Again, the tax refund fraud is impossible without your personally identifiable information. Check your credit reports. You can get free copies of your credit reports once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. (You can also get a free credit report summary every month on Credit.com.) Close any credit or financial account that has been tampered with by a thief or opened without your permission.

Contact the IRS. Call the number provided on the IRS notice informing you of the fraud if it is not the same as the number provided here. To clear your tax record, complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. You can use a fillable form at IRS.gov, print it, then mail or fax it.

Pay your taxes. Be sure to continue to pay your taxes and file your tax returns on time, even if you must do so by mailing in paper forms.

Stay diligent. If you contacted the IRS about taxpayer ID theft and did not receive a resolution, also contact the Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 about your case.

Stay alert. You have to assume that if someone has enough of your personal information to file a tax return, they have more than enough information to commit other forms of identity theft. Read every explanation of benefits statement and be sensitive to any communication you may receive from a debt collector. It may not be a mistake.

Unfortunately, tax fraud is a fact of life. The best way to deal with it also happens to be simple: file as early as possible and open all your mail.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team