With the recent theft of Target and Neiman Marcus customer information, it’s becoming painfully clear that most Americans have a greater chance of having their identity information stolen than being actually held up at gunpoint.
The guns in this instance are cyber weapons wielded by a group of 24/7 hackers who work in nearly every country trying to steal credit, debit and other personal information. They sell this data on the black market or use it to buy things. While most Americans are focused on getting or keeping their jobs and paying bills, identity theft continues to be a mostly silent but gargantuan problem. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission:
“Identity theft has been the top consumer complaint to the FTC for 13 consecutive years with tax identity theft showing an increasing share of the Commission’s identity theft complaints.
In 2010, tax identity theft accounted for just 15 percent of the FTC’s identity theft complaints from consumers, while in 2011 it made up 24 percent of the overall identity theft complaints.
In 2012, tax identity theft accounted for more than 43 percent of the identity theft complaints, making it the largest category of identity theft complaints by a substantial margin.”
All of this means that you need to be protective of your personal information. With tax-filing season approaching, you need to be even more careful that someone doesn’t steal your ID to rob you of tax refunds. Here are some tips to protect yourself, courtesy of the FTC:
* The IRS uses your Social Security Number (SSN) to make sure your filing is accurate and complete, and that you get any refund you are due. Identity theft can affect how your tax return is processed.
* Did someone ask for your SSN? The IRS doesn’t start contact with a taxpayer by sending an email, text or social media message that asks for personal or financial information. If you get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to email@example.com.
* Pay close attention to any IRS notices. If someone uses your SSN to get a job, the employer may report that person’s income to the IRS using your SSN. When you file your tax return, you won’t include those earnings. IRS records will show you failed to report all your income. The agency will send you a notice or letter saying you got wages but didn’t report them. The IRS doesn’t know those wages were reported by an employer you don’t know.
* If you think someone used your SSN for a tax refund or a job — or the IRS sends you a notice or letter indicating a problem — contact the IRS immediately. Specialists will work with you to get your tax return filed, get you any refund you are due, and protect your IRS account from identity thieves in the future. Contact the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-908-4490.
As a general rule, I regularly review my credit card and banking accounts about once a week to see if there’s any suspicious activity. Having twice been the victim of identity theft, I’ve found that you can never be too vigilant.
John F. Wasik is an investor advocate, journalist, speaker and the author of Keynes’s Way to Wealth: Timeless Investment Lessons from the Great Economist and 13 other books.