FOX43 Finds Out: Protecting yourself from tax ID theft after the Equifax data breach

HARRISBURG, Pa -- Recent data breaches, including the Equifax breach, have some people worried about tax identity theft this year.

Especially because if you become a victim, there may not be a quick fix.

FOX43 finds out how you can prevent crooks from filing on your behalf.

When we talk about taxes, we're typically talking about a deadline around April 15th.

This year though, Mary Smith, a senior tax analyst at H&R Block says you need to file your tax return ASAP and it all because of the risk of tax identity theft - thanks to recent data breaches.

"It's something that you actually never know until your return is submitted and it's rejected."

Smith has been working at H&R Block in Harrisburg for years.

She expects more people to come in this year, concerned about tax identity theft.

Even the Federal Trade Commission is suggesting hacking victims should file early and a big reason for that  is the Equifax data breach.

More than 145 million people were impacted, including 5 and a half million in Pennsylvania.

Social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver's license numbers - all compromised.

"If someone got my social security number in one of these data breaches or one of these hacks, is it pretty simple for them to file a tax return on my behalf? Yes. Yes it is very simple," said Smith.

The reason it's so simple?

The internet.

Smith said, "Where the tax identify theft can come in because a lot of people will file their returns electronically and never really see a person, so that way there there's nobody really looking at their information and it just goes through electronically."

If someone has already filed a return on your behalf - you have to deal with the IRS.

"It can be very confusing. The terminology, what to expect, what to do, the forms," said Smith.

The IRS does have some protections,  like an Identity Theft pin.

However you can only get one if you've already been identified as as a victim of a tax-related id theft.

The IRS even states "not every data breach results in identity theft, and not every identity theft is tax-related identity theft."

Which means even if you know your data was comprised during the equifax hack - pennsylvanians probably won't get and IP pin. So, you'll have to find another type of tax ID protection - which plenty of companies offer - for a price.

H&R Block's is called identity sheild - something Smith says could help you if you become a tax id victim.

"We have a department that will actually help someone get in contact with the IRS, there are forms that need to be completed, help them to get their identity back and just help them work through that whole process."

A lot of the other major tax firms also offer something similar - usually - all with an additional fee.

Even with all of the talk about tax ID theft, back at the H&R block in Harrisburg,  Smith expects a steady flow of people looking to file their returns all season long.

"I won't say that they're fearful, but we do have clients who try to take all the steps to make sure their tax information is secure.">

Since we're in tax season, we need to talk about the good old IRS scams.

These scams are becoming more sophisticated than ever.

These are the things to keep in mind.

The IRS will contact you by mail first, before any phone calls.

It also won't specify a way for you to make a payment - like a gift card, money transfer or prepaid debit card.

If you do get a call from the IRS that might seem legitimate  write down all the details of the caller and then call the IRS at 1800-829-1040.

There is even a scam out there right now where it looks like a tax return was deposited into your bank account.

However, that ends up being bogus and it's all a scam to steal even more money from victims.

If you have a story you want me to look into, FOX43 wants to find out.

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