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How to protect yourself from tax-related identity theft – and what victims can do

Tax fraud identity theft occurs in many ways using another’s social security number: filing a fraudulent return, getting a job, filing for unemployment, stealing someone’s refund, and more – here is what you need to know.

Identity theft and tax fraud: What to look for

If this happens to you, you may not even realize it has occurred until the IRS notifies you of a possible issue with your tax return.

Most often, the IRS will pick up the problem when they notice that more than one tax return was filed using your Social Security Number (SSN).

You might also find out if you receive a 1099 for unemployment, but you never claimed the benefit.

The IRS might also notify you if it has records that you received wages or other income from an employer that you never worked for, where a fraudster filed a W-2 or 1099 using your SSN.

According to the IRS, the most common ways you become aware that someone is using your Social Security number are as follows:

-You get a letter from the IRS inquiring about a suspicious tax return that you did not file.

-You can’t e-file your tax return because of a duplicate Social Security number.

-You get a tax transcript in the mail that you did not request.

-You get an IRS notice that an online account has been created in your name.

-You get an IRS notice that your existing online account has been accessed or disabled when you took no action.

-You get an IRS notice that you owe additional tax or refund offset or that you have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.

-IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer you didn’t work for.

-You’ve been assigned an Employer Identification Number, but you did not request an EIN.

What to do if tax-related identity theft happens to you

If you believe you have become a victim of tax-related identity theft or tax refund fraud, you need to notify both the IRS and postal inspectors. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at identitytheft.gov.

The IRS stresses that even if you are a victim of tax-related identity theft, you must continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must file a paper return.

Notify the IRS of tax-related identity theft by completing IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit.

Protect your credit also

In addition to notifying the IRS, you should also immediately contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies (they will alert the other two) and ask them to place “a fraud alert” or “security freeze” on your credit report. If you notice any fraudulent debts, also request that they block or remove them.

You can contact the three credit bureaus at:

Equifax Alerts or call: (800) 685-1111

Experian Fraud Center or call: (888) 397-3742

Trans Union Fraud Alert or call: (888) 909-8872

For more information, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.