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Tax Identity Theft: How to avoid becoming a victim

Monday was the first full day of business for the IRS since the government shutdown. That means it's the first time in over a month that they have processed and responded to tax returns. Now that tax season is upon us, how can you make sure your identity stays safe?

PORTLAND, Maine — Tax Identity Theft.

It’s when someone files a fraudulent tax return under a stolen social security number.

But how do you even know when it happens?

"That generally comes to light when you go ahead and file your tax return and you get a response from the IRS, or your tax return preparer gets a response from the IRS that says ‘Hey, you’ve already filed a tax return this year’. You can also get notice about it when you get a letter in the mail saying you haven't paid tax on an income from a company you’ve never worked for," Cory Vargo, a CPA for WIFLi said. 

So, how do the scammers do it? They use your stolen social security number or bank account and will report fake income amounts on a fraudulent return to the IRS.

"They’re really just going to put numbers on a form, and the IRS' automated process is going to spit out a refund, and they’ll mail it to the address they put on that fake tax return. So really, they’re trying to suck your refund away from you," Vargo said. 

The scammers often work through phone or email, asking their victims to relay sensitive personal or bank information to them. Sometimes, they'll ask victims for payment, through credit or gift cards. 

If someone calls you or shoots you an email claiming that they’re the IRS and asks for your personal information, hang up!

"The IRS will never request data like that from you in that fashion. You’ll never get an email asking for your information from the IRS, and they will never give you an unsolicited call asking for payment information, your social security number or any other personally identifiable information," Vargo said.

If you fall victim to tax identity theft, visit the IRS website for information on next steps.