ID theft is on the minds of many these days, but tax identity theft takes it to another level, meaning someone is using your Social Security Number for work or tax purposes.

How would I know? Many times, victims are completely unaware their Social Security Number has been stolen until they file their tax return only to learn that one has already been filed in their name.

Other clues? Sometimes victims receive a letter from the IRS showing they received wages or other income from an employer for whom they’ve never worked. They may also be notified that they owe additional taxes, have a refund offset or have had a collection action taken against them for a year they did not file a tax return. These are red flags and should immediately be addressed with the IRS.

How does this happen? Identity thieves are savvy and find a variety of ways to gain access to personal information, including phishing emails, scam phone calls as well as computer hacks and data breaches.

How do we help avoid it? Protect your personal information and that of your family members, including keeping tax records secure and not carrying your Social Security card. Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections on your computer and use strong passwords for your accounts.

Be smart. Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, and do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails. Do not be intimidated by threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit card companies and even the IRS.

How do I know it’s the “real” IRS contacting me? Remember, the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This also includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels or threatening phone calls. If you’re in doubt, contact the IRS directly with your concerns.

What do I do if I’m a victim? If your SSN is compromised or you suspect you are a victim of tax-related identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is charged with handling most identity theft complaints at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338). You can visit www.socialsecurity.gov/statement/ to access your Social Security Administration earnings and benefits statement, or to check whether someone has used your Social Security number to get a job or to avoid paying taxes. You can also contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

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