Tips to Protect Your Identity During Tax Season
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – There's never a time when the threat of identity theft isn't real, but you might have to use a little more caution protecting your personal information during tax season.
Residents can start filing their individual income tax returns today, and in an effort to help your personal information stay safe, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office is participating in a national campaign by offering several tips as you file your taxes this year.
“It’s Identity Theft Awareness Week and we’re trying to guide people through the process of protecting themselves,” Deputy Attorney General Jane Hochberg told News Radio 1310 on Friday.
In 2016, the latest numbers available, Idaho received more than 1,300 reports of identity theft. Of that number, only 509 cases were resolved.
“Identity theft is a big problem,” Hochberg said, noting identity thieves use a variety of ways to steal information, with the primary target being another person’s social security number to get a tax refund or job. You might find out this has happened to you if “you get a letter from the IRS saying more than one tax return was filed in your name, or IRS records show you have wages from an employer you don’t know.”
There are many things Idahoans should be aware of in an effort to protect their information, Hochberg said.
Your information is vulnerable," says Idaho Deputy Attorney General Jane Hochberg, "and you have to take steps to protect it.
For instance, if you file electronically, be sure to use a firewall and strong passwords, and do not use public WiFi because information in such hot spots can be hacked easier than private networks. If you are sending information by mail, do not put your tax information in mailboxes, but instead go directly to the post office. Identity thieves have been known to steal mail or items out of a home or car, she said.
These fraudulent persons also will send phony emails that look like they’re from Internal Revenue Service. Some identity thieves call their victims, saying they’re with the Tax Commission or IRS. They ask for personal information, and sometimes have even made threats of bodily harm or jail if they do not receive immediate payment.
“This is really a common scam,” Hochberg said. “The calls can sound real and can be really scary.” But, she said, the IRS will never demand immediate payment, will not threaten with harm or jail, and will never ask for personal information over the phone.
She also said that you should never respond to email, text or social media messages claiming to be from a legitimate agency. The IRS does not use these means to communicate to taxpayers and will always first contact a person through postal mail.
It also is important to protect your credit cards, as they can be gateways for scammers and thieves to obtain additional personal information.
“Your information is vulnerable and you have to take steps to protect it,” Hochberg said.
If the nightmare happens and your identity is stolen, it can be a challenge resolving the issue, she said, but don’t give up hope, it can be done.
“It’s a long process and it’s not an easy route,” she said. “It can be very intimidating. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”
That’s why it’s important to report the theft right away to multiple sources: the Federal Trade Commission, IRS, Idaho Tax Commission.
It’s also important to report suspicious calls, emails and texts or social media messages so that a case can be built against the fraudulent persons.
Hochberg said if you receive a message from someone claiming to be from a taxing agency and he or she leaves a number for you to call them back, do not do it. Instead, find the correct number in a directory and call that number instead to report the suspicious call.
“It’s important for us to know,” Hochberg said.
She also said those who’ve had their identity stolen still have to pay taxes, but the IRS has a specialized unit that can help them file their returns.
If you’d like additional information on how to protect your identity, several webinars and Twitter chats will take place this week, Jan. 29-Feb. 2, hosted by the Federal Trade Commission and its partners. To find out more about the webinars or to participate, visit this FTC webpage.
No matter how you file, Hochberg said, the important thing is to make sure you take the steps to “be safe and protect your identity.”
Additional help can be found at the following sites:
To report identity theft and get a recovery plan:
IRS’ Identity Theft webpage (information and guidance):
Idaho State Tax Commission’s Identity Theft webpage (information and guidance):