Tax Identity Theft: Why You’re Vulnerable

If you are one of the unfortunate souls whose identity is compromised with the IRS, you might personally have to do the legwork, and it won’t be easy. Mallory is quite experienced in navigating federal bureaucracies, yet still found herself being transferred multiple times and then held on hold by the understaffed IRS fraud department. She wasn’t able to get a great deal of information, and her accountant wasn’t allowed to help. Mallory only got some clarity on the theft when my colleagues at Identity Theft 911 got involved and a prepaid debit card (which had been ordered by the thief to receive the refund) showed up at the home of her parents.

If you find your efforts stymied, it’s worth making a call to your insurance agent, bank or credit union representative, or the HR department at work to find out if they have a program to help policy holders, customers, members or employees resolve identity theft issues. You may want to enroll now if it’s available, and you may be pleasantly surprised to find that it’s free or can be had for a nominal cost depending on your relationship with the institution. It can be a game changer if you become a victim.

In cases where your return is blocked or a refund has been issued to thieves, or you are notified by the IRS that you significantly underreported your income (because someone else had obtained employment using your SSN), you’ll have to have a police report to start the process of proving to the IRS that you are who you say you are and you’ve been victimized. Even then, with the backlogs you’ll still spend plenty of time on the phone and with paperwork trying to work out a resolution to your case.

However, once you resolve your case with the IRS, don’t assume that you’re safe: if identity thieves have your name and Social Security number, they have a permanent option on your life that they can use at their convenience. Even if they are arrested and prosecuted, the nightmare isn’t necessarily over. They may well have sold your information to others who will do more of the same.

  • Get the free credit reports to which you are entitled every year. Thoroughly review them. Correct any errors and report suspicious activity to the fraud departments of the credit bureaus.
  • Put fraud alerts on your credit files.
  • Ask each of the three reporting agencies to freeze your credit.
  • Visit sites like Credit.com, which provides a free top line view of your credit and free credit scores that are updated monthly. If something in your credit profile changes unexpectedly, and you can’t explain it, you may have become a victim.
  • Check your credit and bank accounts daily.
  • Enroll in free transactional monitoring programs that are offered by your bank, credit union and credit card company so that you will immediately be notified of all activity in your accounts.
  • Consider buying more sophisticated credit and fraud monitoring programs to keep track of changes in your credit or identity profiles.
  • Find a personal damage control program to “have your back.”
  • Your identity is your asset. Unfortunately, it is a highly exploitable commodity for those who view you as their day job.

    This article originally appeared in Credit.com.

    Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.

    Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.

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