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As tax season approaches, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has designated January 29-February 2, 2018 as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.  According to the IRS, tax identity theft can occur when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) to file a return in your name and collect your refund.  Problems with the IRS can arise once you attempt to file a return if you owe additional taxes, or if wages from an unknown employer or an already completed tax return are on record.

You can become vulnerable to tax identity theft by responding to phishing emails or failing to protect sensitive information.  Here are a few tips to avoid tax scams:

  • Do not oblige requests to give a list of names and W-2 forms of all fellow employees. This could jeopardize sensitive information and the ability to file tax returns as a part of a W-2 scam.
  • The IRS warns against carrying your Social Security card or giving up your SSN unless it is absolutely necessary. A scammer may only need your SSN to compromise your tax returns.
  • File your tax return early! By completing it well before the April 17 deadline, you reduce the chances of someone fraudulently filing them before you and, if necessary, give yourself plenty of time to resolve any issues with the IRS.

If you do fall victim to tax identity theft, there are ways to ensure that the correct return is processed so that you get your proper refund.  Unfortunately, many don’t detect that their identity has been stolen until after their return is rejected, since it is the second return filed using that SSN.  Turbotax suggests a few methods to help you detect and recover from tax scams:

  • Alert the IRS that a fraudulent return may have been filed due to identity theft by sending IRS Form 14039. You will need to include a copy of your Social Security card and some form of photo-identification
  • You may be asked to fill out Letter 5071C if the IRS suspects a fraudulent filing. This allows you to confirm your identity, using their Identity Verification Service
  • If you are suspicious of tax identity theft, they also suggest that you place a credit freeze on your report. This will prevent an identity thief from opening new accounts in your name. Learn more about credit freezes here: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/identity-theft

It is important to be aware of various tax scams and take extra precautions to protect your information.  Learn more about tax identity theft and how to handle tax scams on the FTC’s webpage.  In conjunction with the IRS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the FTC will hold free webinars and Twitter chats during the designated week to help keep consumers informed and protected. You can find the schedule for Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0029-tax-identity-theft-awareness-week

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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