GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – It’s that time of year again to file your tax returns. But this is also the time identity theft picks up, with criminals trying to claim your tax refunds.
Unfortunately, we hear this story every year around this time. You go to file your tax return and it kicks back, saying you’ve already filed. So WNCT sat down with local experts to find out what, if anything, you can do to prevent yourself from falling victim to tax fraud.
The biggest piece of advice is filing early. The IRS accepts the first return filed in your name and automatically rejects any other attempts.
Criminals only need your social security number and name to file a return on your behalf. So experts recommend you protect that information. Don’t carry your social security card with you and be sure to use strong passwords online.
“There’s really not a whole lot of options for you to prevent it because you’ve got to provide this information when agencies need it. So just understand that it’s going to be more of a nuisance for you to mitigate the damage that’s been done once your ID has been compromised,” said Robbie Rice, CPA with Carr, Riggs & Ingram.
Scammers also actively seek you out, often calling and impersonating IRS agents, saying you must pay immediately or face prosecution. It’s important to note, however, the IRS will not call you.
Local experts also want people to be aware of what to do if this does happen to you.
When you try to file, the IRS will let you know there’s already a return filed in your name. You should contact the IRS immediately to let them know your identity has been stolen. You’ll fill out a form and they’ll give you an identity protection personal ID number for an additional layer of identification. The IRS will then confirm your identity and work to get your refund.
Local CPA Robbie Rice recommends checking more than just your tax returns.
“They may want to check their credit reports because their social security number is in the hands of someone who is looking to steal. They may use it for other methods,” Rice said.
The North Carolina Department of Revenue says just in the last year, it refunded more than $25.5 million in more than 22,000 tax fraud cases.
The IRS reports an average of 271 days before an identity theft claim clears, so you could be waiting on your refund for months.