ATHENS — Like many other phishing scams, identity thieves may try to take advantage of Americans filing their taxes by sending fake emails, texts or social media postings supposedly from the Internal Revenue Service.
But one data security proponent at the University of Georgia is warning taxpayers to be suspicious.
“If you receive an email from the IRS that asks for your Social Security number, birthdate or similar personal information, or requires some sort of action on your part, it is highly likely that it is a fake,” said Laura Heilman, security-awareness training and education manager. “Do not open the email or any attachments that came with it.”
The IRS only sends communications through physical mail and doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text messages or social media, she added.
Heilman also suggests not opening links in the suspicious emails from the IRS. She suggested deleting the email or forwarding it to firstname.lastname@example.org for review by the IRS.
January is a prime month for identity theft because criminals may wait to use information they illegally obtained in previous months to submit a fake tax return for a refund, Heilman said.
“Many times, the identity thieves file a return long before the legitimate taxpayers can,” she said. “It then becomes the burden of the taxpayers to prove that they are who they say they are, and that the thief was the fraudulent filer.”
The IRS says the following may be indications of tax-related identify theft:
• Receiving a letter from the IRS because more than one tax return has been filed under one name.
• Getting a notice or bill for unpaid taxes on wages one did not earn.
• The IRS lists employers one did not work for on their record.
Any time you get a notice from the IRS in your mailbox, you should respond immediately, Heilman said.
Those who their identities have been stolen — or suspect their Social Security numbers may have been used in connection with tax fraud— will have to file IRS Form 14039, she said. That form is the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit.
“Filing this form places a flag on your tax account and minimizes the opportunity for an identity thief to collect your tax return before you can,” Heilman said.
However, the IRS warns that filing Form 14039 will significantly delay a tax refund.
For more information provided by the IRS about identity fraud, see www.irs.gov/uac/Taxpayer-Guide-to-Identity-Theft.