It’s tax return time now, so it’s all coming back to them – the experience with their state and federal tax return last year. My friend Sharon is glad it’s over, but there were anxious times in the beginning.
It all started with a letter from the state of Colorado Department of Taxation. She and her husband used to live there. The notification said there was a fraudulent state tax return filed in Sharon’s name. It was detected by the state of Colorado and rejected because the circumstances on the form were so different from any of the others she had filed. The return had her correct Social Security number, but it had her filing separately instead of jointly, and other things didn’t match up from the year before. The information must have been shared with the IRS, which also rejected the return.
Apparently, someone had stolen her Social Security number and was trying to get money with it in the form of a refund on her taxes.
This seemed particularly crazy because she and her husband had not even filed their returns yet.
She immediately called the phone number on the letter and time after time there was no one to speak to because the department was so busy. Eventually, when she did get through to find out what was actually going on, the explanation went like this:
In the early months of the tax season this happens frequently. A Social Security number is stolen and a tax return filed in that person’s name showing a refund, maybe for only as little as $500. But it’s done thousands of times. The Colorado source explained it is always done electronically and then the money is sent to the filer.
After hearing all this information, the anxious feelings grew. Now what should she do? The state of Colorado recommended she bring in the Feds at the IRS. They told her to call the three credit bureaus and freeze her account. I had no idea what that meant. They explained that we all have accounts or at least records with credit bureaus.
There are three main ones to deal with and she began with Equifax. The person there was very helpful, recommending all the steps she should take, including freezing her accounts. Sharon explained, after an account is frozen, any time someone tries to obtain a credit card or buy a home or a car using her Social Security number, it would be refused because there is no access to her credit information. Now, if she and her husband want to buy something on a new credit line, they can simply call the three credit bureaus and unfreeze their credit for a short time, then refreeze it again.
Sharon doesn’t know how someone got her Social Security number, but suspects it could be through health insurance data that may have been hacked. There was also no warning. As far as she and her husband knew, everything was just fine with their credit and Social Security numbers.
Next came the concern about her bank accounts and credit cards. Thankfully, nothing else had been compromised. The income tax return had been e-filed and thrown out by the state realizing it was bogus, so nothing bad happened there either, except that she could no longer e-file for that year. Their filing had to be done on paper because apparently a person can only e-file once during the year.
It was also suggested that she call Social Security to notify them. That didn’t turn out to be a great event. The person there was not helpful, saying they could help only if a violation was found, and asking if she wanted to change her Social Security number. That’s really all they could do for her. It seemed a daunting task to think of all the places you leave your Social Security number or must use it and it’s already on file.
They considered it for a long time and decided it was best to keep the same number, since nothing else happened to them except the wrongful filing of income tax in Sharon’s name. They thought they were very careful, but now are even more vigilant with their credit.
So, hopefully this is the first and last time you will ever hear of this kind of criminal activity. Think of all that identity theft can do to your life. It was tough on my friends and something they don’t want to go through again, even though they were lucky that no money was taken from them. This is one of a hundred reasons to guard your Social Security number. Obviously there are situations like this where we have no control!
Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org
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