Protect yourself against tax identity theft by filing early

Tax season has arrived —  and identity thieves are already scheming to get your refund.

Tax identity theft occurs when someone files a fake tax return using your social security number. It can also occur when someone uses your social security number to get a job or claims your child as a dependent on their tax return.

Tax identity theft is the number one form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

One thing you can do to avoid being a victim is to file early — if you can — to get your refund before identity thieves do.

Make sure you use a secure Internet connection if you file electronically or “snail mail” from the post office to make it more difficult for thieves to get their hands on your personal information.

The tax identity theft scam is not going away. The FTC got 109,063 complaints about the scam in 2014. That’s almost 110,000 people across the U.S. who had some kind of identity theft scam associated with their taxes.

If you do find yourself the victim of tax identify theft, fill out IRS Form 14039 (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039.pdf) and contact your local law enforcement agency.

Another important thing to remember is that no Internal Revenue Service official will ever call you about unpaid taxes or penalties. That communication comes through the mail.

So if someone calls you and says they are from the IRS and demands immediate payment or you will be arrested, hang up. This is a scam.

It’s not just people pretending to be from the IRS, either. Sometimes the scammers say they are from law enforcement or a utility company.

The scammers tell their victims to go to a store, get a pre-paid credit card (like a Green Dot), load it up with money, and then call a phone number with the card information.

Never do that. Once that money is sent out, it’s gone for good.

If you get one of these calls from someone pretending to be from the IRS, hang up and then call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration office at 1 (800) 366-4484.

For more information on how to avoid being a victim of tax identity theft, visit the FTC’s website at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/3-ways-use-tax-identity-theft-awareness-week-help-people-your-life

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