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Protect your money – get your taxes filed now
The massive Equifax data breach this past year (in 2017) puts more filers at risk for tax fraud than ever before. Protect your money – get your taxes filed now!
Even though the IRS is constantly working to protect taxpayers from having their tax refunds stolen, they are far from eradicating this very real threat. On the positive side, they drastically reduced the number of fraud cases in the 2017 filing year (for 2016 returns). On the negative side, fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated technology to scam the refund money of hard-working Americans. That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to protect your money.
I have six ways you can help protect yourself:
1. File early.
The best way to protect yourself is to simply file your return early. The IRS began accepting files two weeks ago, on January 29, which means that criminals have started seeing which returns they can sneak through. So the sooner you file, the better.
Even if you believe you may owe and won’t be getting a refund, still get your taxes done and filed early. One errant assumption that taxpayers make is that if they likely owe, it won’t matter if they file close to the deadline (which is April 17 this year). Unfortunately, that isn’t true. Until you’ve actually calculated your taxes, you could be wrong. Don’t give fraudsters the time or the chance to file before you. Remember, even if you are correct and you do owe, you can submit your file without paying in full yet. You are only required to pay the full tax owed by the April 17 deadline. You can send the payment separately later.
2. Have everything ready to file at once.
Don’t allow additional time to slip away because you need a specific document or additional information. Get everything gathered right away so your file is complete and can be sent in now.
3. Make use of IRS self-help tools.
Visit IRS.gov/secureaccess to gain access to their secure platform. The IRS describes the purposed of this area on their site as, “to prevent taxpayer impersonations and account takeovers by identity thieves.”
4. Protect your social security number and those of your family.
There are too many places that ask for SSNs that don’t really need them. Unless it’s absolutely required, do not supply the social security numbers of yourself or your family. This only places that information in more and more places that may not be secure in the recording of them. In particular, taxpayers often do not realize that not only are they putting their children’s identities at risk, they are putting their own accurate tax returns and money at risk as well. (See #5 below.)
5. Have accurate information on your children and fiercely protect it.
The Child Tax Credit is another place fraudsters attempt to steal money. Criminals that have too much information about your child(ren) can claim them on a false return before you. Beyond the loss of your owed tax credit, if someone claims your child(ren), their identity has likely been stolen and their future is now at risk.
6. Be on high alert for tax scams.
Scams come in multiple ways and with the increased sophistication of them, it’s become a bit harder to identify them. But there are some dead giveaways of a tax scam:
a. Phone calls. Phone scams have been around for years and operate based on either fear or elation. Either the criminal caller demands payment and uses intimidation to scam people into sending money or the caller claims the taxpayer is owed money due to an error and tricks people into giving out private information. Phone calls are always a red flag because the IRS never calls taxpayers out of the blue. The IRS always contacts first via regular U.S. mail, such as sending the taxpayer an official bill. Furthermore, the IRS never threatens to call the police nor demands payment through methods such as prepaid cards or asking for your debit or credit card number.
b. Emails and social media. Just like phone calls, the IRS does not email people about their taxes nor do they contact anyone via social media. Emails you aren’t expecting should never be opened and, absolutely, any links should never be clicked. Likewise, any contact via social media should be ignored and the sender blocked.
c. Look-alike sites. Never click through an email or a link floating around the internet, even from official-looking advertisements for tax preparers. Always type the correct site’s URL directly in and make sure it uses the security “https”. By making sure that you are going to the real website of a tax preparation service or electronic tax filing service, you can avoid fake tax sites that look genuine but are actually a well-designed scam.