AG Healey Alerts Consumers to Beware of Identity Theft During Tax Season
Office Offers Tips to Avoid Scams and Defend Against Fraudulent Practices
BOSTON – With tax season underway, Attorney General Maura Healey is offering helpful information for consumers on how to protect their information against identity theft and avoid scams.
“We urge consumers to pay extra attention this tax season as identity thieves are finding more ways to compromise personal and financial information,” AG Healey said. “Our office will continue to be a source of education and assistance for consumers on how to prevent identity theft, including steps they can take to recover if they become a victim.”
Tax identity theft happens when someone files a fake tax return using your personal information – like your Social Security Number – to get a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It also can happen when someone uses your Social Security number to get a job or claims your child as a dependent on a tax return. Tax identity theft has been the most common form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the past five years. The IRS also reports receiving thousands of complaints about IRS imposters who contact people and claim they owe unpaid taxes and will be arrested if they do not pay up.
Consumers may find out something is wrong after they file their tax return, or if they receive a letter from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed in their name, or if IRS records show wages from an employer that they do not know.
Tax identity thieves get your personal information in a number of ways, including going through your trash, stealing mail from your home, or sending phony “phishing” emails that look like they are from the IRS and ask for personal information. Consumers should also be particularly aware of employees at hospitals, nursing homes, banks, and other businesses that have regular access to personal information and opportunity to steal such information, along with phony or dishonest tax preparers that may misuse clients’ information for their own benefit or pass it along to identity thieves.
Keeping vigilant is the best defense against these fraudulent practices. The AG’s Office offers consumers the following suggestions to help them protect against potential identity theft:
- File your tax return early in the tax season;
- Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically. Avoid the use of public computers whenever possible;
- Mail your tax return directly from the post office;
- Shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets you no longer need;
- Regularly shred mail or other correspondence containing personal account numbers, such as mortgage statements or insurance information.
- If you do not have a safe place to receive mail, consider getting a P.O. Box at the post office.
- Know that the IRS and most banking institutions will not contact you by email, text, or social media asking for personal information. If the IRS needs information, it will first contact you by mail;
- Do not give out your Social Security Number (SSN) or Medicare number unless necessary. Never give this information out over the phone following an unsolicited phone call, no matter who the person calling claims to be;
- Research tax preparers thoroughly and get recommendations where possible before handing over your personal information; and
- Check your credit report for free at least once a year, at each of the three major reporting agencies, by visiting annualcreditreport.com to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.
If you have reason to believe your personal information may have been compromised, consider contacting the credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit file. For information regarding the process to place these types of alerts, and the attendant costs and consequences of doing so, contact any one of the following agencies: Equifax, (800) 525-6285, www.equifax.com; Experian, (888) 397-3742, www.experian.com; or TransUnion, (800) 680-7289, www.transunion.com.
If your SSN has been compromised, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490. More information about tax identity theft is available on the AG’s website, or from the FTC at ftc.gov/taxidtheft and the IRS at irs.gov/identitytheft. If you have a question about your taxes, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 or go to irs.gov. You can report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration online or at (800) 366-4484, and to the FTC at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.