Tax Season Tips: Avoiding Audits And ID Theft

For any number of reasons, tax season is stressful. Sure, everyone loves getting their return (if you don’t believe that, check the sales of Big Screen TVs and other luxuries in late April) but at what price? Outside of the sometimes exorbitant fees charged by tax preparers, modern citizens also have to contend with the “paper file versus efile taxes” debate and be concerned with identity theft.

What do you mean identity theft?

Oh, you hadn’t heard? Tax season is like Christmas for frauds and thieves. Late filers often find their returns rejected because an identity thief has already submitted a big, fat phony return using their name. And while IRS resolution centers work very hard to try to catch fraudulent tax returns and identity thieves, there are simply too many out there. That’s why each year, 50 year old grandmothers and 19 year old food service employees alike are at risk. Each year, the IRS releases a “Dirty Dozen” list to help you stay alert.

There is an enormous list of ways to fall victim, several of which are detailed in brief below:

Identity Theft: We’ve spoken about this already. Someone uses your personal information, such a Social Security number, to commit fraud. Commonly, they will file tax returns to claim refunds, typically under $5,000. Then your return gets rejected, and you’ve got months of headaches while it all gets sorted out.

Phishing: Computer criminals commit identity theft or financial theft after gaining personal information through the use of false e-mails or websites. A good thing to keep in mind to avoid being “phished” is to remember that the IRS never contacts taxpayers through any type of electronic communication.

Return Fraud. According to the IRS, 60% or so of taxpayers will go to professionals – H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, or other tax preparers – to get tax help. The vast majority of them will get exactly what they’ve gone for: honest help. An unlucky few will fall victim to unscrupulous tax preparers. It is important to never sign a blank return, and to choose carefully when deciding on a tax professional. Even if you’ve gotten someone else to do your taxes for you, you and you alone are liable for the information put down on the return.

Falsifying Returns. Sometimes it is tempting to commit a low level sort of fraud yourself. Claiming exorbitant expenses to which you are not entitled, or taking advantage of the Fuel Tax Credit, for instance. In these cases, you yourself are the criminal, and the IRS can and will prosecute. Don’t allow false information on your returns.

How You Can Protect Yourself:

Contact the IRS if your wallet is stolen, if your information may be stolen, or if you have questionable credit activity.

Never, ever sign a blank return.

Don’t file your taxes over public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Use a reputable tax preparer or a reputable software

Don’t leave important documents lying out, or in your vehicle, or anywhere thieves can get to them easily.

It’s important to keep these things in mind whether you’re planning to efile taxes or paper file.

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Tony has been a tax professional for several years and likes to share some tips when it comes to protecting yourself.