Beware Greensboro tax fraud
Image by Chris Potter via Flickr
As a Greensboro resident, you should have received your W2s and other tax documents by now, so you have all the info you need to prepare your 2017 income tax return. Of course, it’s not officially due until April 17, 2018, but you shouldn’t wait to file. The longer you delay, the higher your risk of tax ID fraud. Identity thieves that specialize in tax identity fraud are out in force and already busy filing bogus tax returns so that they can steal tax refunds. Don’t fall prey to this scam. Here’s what you need to know and how to protect yourself.
What Is Tax Identity Fraud?
The IRS calls it “tax-related identity theft,” and it occurs when someone steals your Social Security number and uses it to file a tax return in your name and claim a fraudulent refund. This can happen and you wouldn’t know it until you file your legitimate return and the IRS notifies you that a return was received and a refund was already issued for your SS number for the 2017 tax year. In some cases, the IRS might detect that the return is fraudulent and notify you of the attempt to hijack your tax refund.
Another form of tax identity theft occurs when someone falsely uses your Social Security number for employment so that the IRS recorded wages from an employer for whom you never worked. This might be a simple clerical error or the work of someone using your number intentionally.
How Do Identity Thieves Get Your Social Security Number?
Thieves might use high-tech tools such as phishing emails, text messages, and social media pages to trick you into handing over your social security number. But that’s not the only way for a potential scammer to access your info. Low-tech theft like rifling your trash, business garbage, or stealing records from businesses that record Social Security numbers are typical as well.
Protect Yourself From Social Security Fraud
Greensboro consumers need to be alert to identity-theft risk so they can protect themselves. When it comes to tax identity theft, the best approach is to be proactive in making sure no one can access your Social Security number so the fraud can never even get started. Here are some tips to prevent your SS number from being stolen:
1 – Refuse to give it out. Doctors and dentists love to ask for your Social Security number on written forms. That’s dangerous. Paper records are easy to access so don’t write it down. Check with your medical or dental insurance carrier to make sure the provider can verify your coverage without the number and then explain that to the desk staff.
2 – Safeguard your Medicare card. This year, new Medicare cards are coming to Greensboro seniors that won’t display their Social Security but, in the meantime, make sure no one sees yours. You must show it to receive services, but ask your doctor or dentist not to maintain any paper photocopies of it in their files.
3 – Shred your mail. Shred any mail that has your credit card account numbers, insurance account numbers, bank info or Social Security information before you throw it out. Thieves routinely rifle through trash looking for info to perpetrate identity theft and fraud so make sure you don’t make it easy for them. Just cutting it up won’t do – shred!
Protect Yourself From Income Tax Return Fraud
If a scammer files a fake return in your name, you can clear the matter up, but it takes time for the IRS to sort it and you don’t want that hassle. In addition to taking steps to safeguard your Social Security number, also consider these tips to avoid income tax return fraud:
1 – File early. Try to file your income tax return as early as possible to beat a potential scammer to the punch. Tax documents are due to consumers by January 31, so file ASAP after you get the data.
2 – File on a protected Wi-Fi network. Avoid public networks like hotspots at coffee shops or the library when you file your return. Only file on a secure, encrypted connection.
3 – Use a secure mailbox. If you file a paper return, don’t leave it in your home mailbox or a commercial mail drop facility. Take it to the post office and drop it off inside.
One other thing to consider when dealing with income taxes is to set up your withholding so you don’t have a big refund coming. A tax refund is an interest-free loan you made to the government by letting them use that extra money all year long. You can tweak your withholdings through your employer so that you get a small (or no) refund and use your money all year long instead.
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