During the holiday season, with all the online shopping, credit card swiping and phone orders, we tend to forget about identity theft. Or perhaps during the jolliness of the season, we don’t want to think about it. And you may not think about it until tax time, when the IRS learns two filers have filed under the same social security number - yours.
Many criminals steal personal information during the holiday season and later use that personal information to file a false tax return or to apply for a job. And it will be up to you, in your infinite spare time, to convince the IRS that you are who you say you are.
Most of us are aware of the red flags when someone is trying to weasel personal information out of us. However, common sense loses to the rush of getting that perfect gift at that unbelievably low price. And that’s tip number one, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Here are a few other tips to avoid becoming the victim of an identity thief:
1. Identity thieves gain access to your personal information in a variety of different ways, including:
- Going through your trash, looking for bills and correspondence that contain personal information
- Stealing your wallet
- Using the phone or email to trick you out of personal information
- Finding information you submitted to an unsecured web site
2. Don’t carry your Social Security Card around with you and don’t display your number on documents such as your checkbook.
3. Make sure the web sites requesting personal information are secure. Don’t use the same password for different web sites.
And note: The IRS will not contact you by any social media channels (email, Facebook, etc.) to request information. And they do not send emails claiming that you are being electronically audited or that you are getting a refund.
If you believe you may be at risk for identity theft because you found questionable credit card activity or have been a victim of a robbery, you should probably contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free at 1-800-908-4490.
Since these thieves tend to hold on to your information for a few months, time may be on your side. Beat the criminals by filing your real tax return first. Don’t give them the chance to file a fake one. This will also give the IRS time to contact you if there are any discrepancies.