You have probably read about or know someone who has experienced identity theft. Often, someone’s social security number is used to file a fraudulent tax return. Then when the victim files his/her return, it is denied until they can prove that they are who they claim to be, which can take several months. If you’ve been a victim in the past, the IRS will send you an “Identity Protection Personal ID Number,” which is used when you file your tax return in subsequent years. (Ironically, just this month, an IRS employee who helped people who were victims to this type of fraud was arrested for being in charge of an identity theft ring.)
So what can you do to protect yourself? First, do not provide your social security number at the doctor’s office, hospital, etc. You are not required to use it for identification purposes. Second, file your tax return as soon as possible each year. Finally, do not simply email or fax your tax documents to your tax preparer. He or she should either email you a link that allows you to send the documents in a secure, encrypted email, or provide you with a secure portal to transmit sensitive documents back and forth.