Trust Us, It's NOT the IRS
by Bob Williams
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Remember that email you got this week, the one that freaked you out? It said it was from the IRS and wanted you to verify your information from your tax return before your refund could be issued. You didn’t know what to do, so you just did nothing.
Turns out, that was exactly what you should have done: Nothing.
You see, this email – and millions others like it – are major-league bogus. Fake. Scam. Counterfeit and criminal.
Each one of these little jewels are trying to spoof you into coughing up your Social Security Number and other personal information. And the recipient on the other end isn’t some IRS agent in a black suit; it’s some nameless face in a boiler-room operation in Moscow, Beijing or who-knows-where, who would like nothing better than to rip off the keys to your life and clean out your bank account.
The first rule of thumb is to remember that the IRS (the real IRS) will only send you an official letter by U.S. Postal Service – never by email. The IRS will not call you and ask you for personal information over the telephone. Even if the caller gives you what they say is an IRS badge number, write that number down, and ask for a telephone number where you can call them back. If they do, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 and ask if the number you’ve been given is legitimate. I’ll bet you a box of Moon Pies it won’t be.
In short, if you are asked by someone claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service for your Social Security Number or other private financial information, and it’s in any form other than a letter through the Postal Service, consider it fake. As the IRS itself puts it:
“The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages or social media channels.”
The Warning Signs
Identity theft can take a lot of different forms, not just emails. Many times, our information is compromised without us ever knowing it – until we get the bad news. But there are some early warning signals you should know:
- You get a rejection from the IRS on your income tax return that says a previously filed return with your SSN has already been accepted (and you didn’t file it).
- You owe additional tax, a refund offset, or have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
- IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer who is unknown to you.
What to Do?
If you suspect your income tax information might have fallen into the wrong hands, call the IRS’ Identity Theft Hotline at 800-908-4490 if you still need to file your return. They can issue an Identity Protection PIN so you can file. You may be asked to paper-file your return.
But there are other steps you should take if you fall victim to identity theft. Go online to the Federal Trade Commission website and file a complaint. Contact the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and place a fraud alert on your account. This will require extra verification of identity should someone attempt to create a new account for credit using your name and SSN.
Go to www.IRS.gov and download Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Complete the form and mail or fax it back to the IRS.
Remember, early detection can save a wealth of problems later on. Watch your accounts for unauthorized activity. If an income tax return using your SSN is filed without your permission, report it immediately. And don’t give your personal information over the telephone, the Internet or the mail unless you initiated the contact, or you know who is asking.
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