Tax ID Theft Awareness Week Brings Attention to Common Scams

Attorney General Tim Fox encourages Montanans to read up on the most common tax identity theft scams and how to avoid them during this year’s Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, which is hosted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

“The IRS reported the average federal tax refund during the 2015 filing season was about $3,200.  Montanans work very hard for their wages, and it’s unconscionable that identity thieves are stealing Montanans’ well-deserved tax refunds,” said Attorney General Tim Fox.  “Unfortunately, these scammers are determined to do just that.  However, consumers can arm themselves with knowledge from the FTC, the IRS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and others, including my Office of Consumer Protection.”

Tax identity theft can happen in a number of ways.  It includes someone filing a phony tax return using your personal information, such as your Social Security number, to collect your refund from the IRS. It also can happen if someone uses your Social Security number to get a job or claims your dependents on a tax return. Identity thieves can get your personal information in a number of ways, such as searching through your trash, stealing your mail, or posing as the IRS and asking for personal information over the phone.  The FTC reports tax identity theft has been the most common form of identity theft reported for the past five years.

The FTC suggests Montanans take the following steps to protect themselves from tax scams:

• File your return early in the tax season if you can.
• If you file electronically, don’t use unsecure, publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots.
• Mail your tax return directly from the post office.
• Know the IRS won’t contact you by email, text, or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will first contact you by mail.
• Respond to all postal mail from the IRS as soon as possible.
• Shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets you no longer need.
• Don’t give out your Social Security number (SSN) or Medicare number unless necessary. Ask why it’s needed, how it’s going to be used, and how it will be stored.
• If your SSN has been compromised, contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490.
• Get recommendations and research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information.
• Check your credit report at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.

If you become a victim of tax identity theft, don’t panic. Tax identity theft victims typically find out their information has been compromised when they get a letter from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed in their name, or IRS records show they received wages from an employer they don’t know. If you get a letter like this, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 and visit IdentityTheft.gov to find more resources to help you report and recover from identity theft.

If you owe — or think you may owe — federal taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov.  IRS workers can help you with your payment questions. The IRS doesn’t ask people to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and doesn’t ask for credit card numbers over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they do it by postal mail first, not by phone.

NEXT STEPS:  More information about tax identity theft is available from the FTC at ftc.gov/taxidtheft and the IRS at irs.gov/identitytheft. Report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or at 800-366-4484, and to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint. To get updates on the latest scams and identity theft attempts affecting Montanans, sign up for Consumer Alerts through the Office of Consumer Protection.  To report an attempted scam, use OCP’s convenient online reporting form here.  You can also call to speak with an OCP investigator at (800) 481-6896 or (406) 444-4500, visit OCP’s homepage at https://dojmt.gov/consumer/, or call local law enforcement.