Know the Warning Signs of Tax Identity Theft

Tax identity theft is a growing problem for a number of reasons.

First, it’s relatively easy to pull off with a little bit of know-how. Second, it’s easy to mask your location in order to avoid ever being caught. Third, it’s also physically safer than many other forms of crime, as some notorious street gangs found out when they gave up selling drugs and guns to switch to tax fraud Finally, the potential payoff is far more than many criminals could ever hope to make with other run-of-the-mill criminal activity.

With the record-setting numbers of data breaches in recent years, there’s an abundance of complete personal records available for criminals to use to commit this crime. Tax identity thieves may be the hackers who stole the data in the first place, or they may have purchased large blocks of consumer records on the dark web in order to file fraudulent tax returns. In either case, the end result is a thief gets your refund first and the IRS rejects your legitimate return for being a duplicate.

Be aware of these red flags:

1. Rejected Tax Return - The most obvious sign of something wrong is if your return is rejected due to someone else having filed under your name and Social Security number. If that happens, you must contact the IRS immediately and report the matter to them; the number will be on the letter that first alerted you to the problem.

2. Unexpected W2 Forms - If W2 forms arrive at your house for jobs you don’t have or income you didn’t earn, that’s a pretty clear indicator that someone is using your Social Security number. They might have done so to get a job that they were not eligible for, which is still a crime, but the form itself could be fraudulent, meaning the job was never worked and the form is a fake.

3. Owing Taxes - If you receive notice at any time during the year that you didn’t pay enough in taxes or that your income was actually more than you reported, that’s obviously a giant red flag. There could have been an actual error in your legitimate return, but it’s also possible that someone worked under your SSN.If you did not file a return in a given year but you receive notice that you owed more in taxes, that could indicate that someone either filed in your name or had income earned under your SSN.

So what do you do if any of these things happen? You contact the IRS first, then immediately request copies of your credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you file a police report for identity theft, or if you have not requested those reports during that calendar year, those reports should be free. Look them over immediately for any signs of suspicious activity, and place alerts or freezes on your reports if you suspect an identity theft problem.

There’s an ironic twist to keep in mind: even if a thief files a fraudulent return in your name, you’re still responsible for filing your own legitimate one. Your refund may also be significantly delayed while the IRS sorts out the fact from the fiction, so be prepared that your funds may not be available to you soon.

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Read next: I Have Bad Credit…Why Would an Identity Thief Bother?!

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