Could your tax refund be stolen?

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By Consumers Union on Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Stolen credit cards, stolen Social Security numbers and now stolen tax refunds? The Internal Revenue Service’s national taxpayer advocate lists ID theft among the most serious problems facing taxpayers today.

The scams revolve around thieves filing a false tax return under your name and getting away with your refund (hmm, I’m betting they don’t pony up if you owe Uncle Sam).

The key piece of information they need to make off with your refund is your Social Security number. Around tax time, scams include thieves posing as the IRS either by phone or via e-mail requesting your SSN. Know this – the IRS will never ask you for your SSN. They already have it.

Don’t give out your SSN to anyone who requests it by email. Your bank should never ask you to email your SSN. Any email you get asking for your SSN or bank account number is extremely likely to be from a crook. It’s important to learn about how to avoid these “phishing” scams.

Also, don’t carry your Social Security card or number with you. And choose your tax preparer carefully – some have been known to swipe return information and file on their behalf.

If anyone asks for your SSN, demand to know what they need it for and whether there is another number that can substitute. You do have to give your SSN for employment, tax purposes, and credit – but that’s about it.

Ask your employer if all of the files containing your SSN are kept locked, with access restricted to those who need to see the files.

Check out the IRS tips on avoiding becoming an income tax ID theft victim, and what to do it if happens to you.

To support restrictions on the use of your SSN on things like Medicare cards and other government documents, email your member of Congress and ask them to better protect your privacy.

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