The Identity Theft Resource Center operates a 24/7 call center to help consumers who’ve been impacted by data breaches, identity theft, or other related issues. Throughout the year, we track the specific scenarios that led to consumer calls in order to develop a clearer picture of the public’s needs.
While there are numerous types of identity theft, 34% of the calls to the ITRC call center last year involved government identity theft. This highly specific type of identity theft involves a number of scenarios that all include using someone’s information in conjunction with government services, benefits, or filings. Thieves can use your data to file a fraudulent tax return with your Social Security number, apply for veteran’s or disability benefits, gain employment, and more.
One of the difficulties with government identity theft is that you often do not know that it occurred until long after your data was stolen. Unlike financial identity theft in which your credit card or bank account is used and you receive an account statement or notification within a month or two, government identity theft often goes unnoticed until you have need of a specific service. Many victims of tax refund fraud, for example, only discover someone has already filed a return under their Social Security Number when they attempt to file their own legitimate return. Likewise, some victims have only discovered that their disability benefits have been impacted when they themselves attempt to file for benefits.
So how do you stay on top of this? The first answer is too obvious—but hopefully not too late.
1. Safeguard your information as much as you can. Never carry your Social Security Number with you and never give it to anyone who does not have a specific, approved need for it. Make sure you’re shredding all documents before you discard them, especially pay stubs, Social Security statements, and any other paperwork that may contain your private data.
2. Watch for suspicious activity. Does your Social Security statement indicate that you have another job, or simply made too much money last year? Do your W-2s reflect income that you can’t verify? Have you received any strange medical billing reports which might indicate someone had a routine test done in order to demonstrate a disability claim? Anything suspicious should be reported to the Social Security office or the IRS’s fraud investigation department.
3. File your tax return early. To stop fraudulent claims, your best course of action is to file early, and have your refund processed before another one can be entered. If you wait until the filing deadline and then discover that another claim has been filed under your Social Security Number, it becomes your burden to prove that the scammer is not, in fact, you. Not only is this a major problem to deal with, but if you count on the refund as part of your income, the delay will affect your livelihood.
Of course, the ITRC is also happy to help with Fact Sheets, advice, and information, so reach out for assistance at the first sign that something is amiss through our 24/7 call center at 888-400-5530 or our website.