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It’s unbelievably frustrating to get a notification that you can’t file your taxes because you already filed them. Wait? What? You read that right! This is exactly what has happened to us!
When we got married, we decided that the first few years, we would file our taxes separately because Nate had a few things he wanted to continue working on and he didn’t want me to be affected by it. One of these items was identity theft.
Back in 2012, someone file taxes using his name and his social security number. Each year since then, he has been given a special code from the IRS when filing taxes so they know it is him. However; in 2017, we experienced the worst possible nightmare after deciding to jointly file our taxes.
We thought everything was fine now. We had just moved to Charlotte and we had an accountant prepare out taxes. She told us what we would receive and submitted our taxes. Hours later, we received a rejection email from the IRS saying that our taxes had been rejected. Nate later found out that the same person tried to file taxes again. Basically, the IRS was trying to determine who was the real Nate and unfortunately I was now caught up in the mix.
It took the IRS six months to fix the problem but it’s really not over. We are doing our taxes separately again this year but I am a bit anxious to see what will happen when Nate files his taxes this year.
Unfortunately, there is no way to totally secure yourself from identity theft but there are some solutions that will help you and alert you of attacks. You have to be proactive and not turn a blind eye to your credit situation.
My husband and I love Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and in the program he describes two types of individuals – the nerd and the free spirit. I am the nerd as it relates to our finances and I manage our household budget. It’s my goal to protect us from the IRS even thinking that we have mismanaged our finances because some lazy coward wants to be a theft.
Let’s take a look at some ways to reduce the threat:
1. Cut back on the amount of credit cards you are actively using.
The days of having seven, eight, or nine credit cards in your wallet are over! We have to stop spending more than what we earn. This will keep you in debt for years! Even if they have low or no balances, it’s a risk to carry your cards around with you. Carry only the ones you need and cut up the others. Do not close the ones you cut up because you will close your whole credit history. If those balances are zero, it will look wonderfully on your credit.
2. Make sure you review your credit report regularly.
By law you can obtain one free report from each of the credit bureaus every year. If you divide that up to one a quarter, you can keep a good eye on your credit report. My husband has kept up with his credit score through Credit Karma and a credit repair company call Lexington Law.
After getting your credit report, if you find anything that looks off, make sure to call the credit bureau right away. Sometimes you are able to get it removed and other times they won’t remove it. Lexington Law helped Nate get a lot of items that were reported incorrectly off of his credit.
3. Never sign the back of the card.
When I hand the cashier my bank card, I stand there and watch what they are going to do. They should check the back of it and ask for your ID especially if there is no signature. Also, by signing the back of the card, you are making it way to easy for a thief to forge your signature. Instead of signing your cards write “See photo ID” or something similar on the back of the card. That is much better protection for you than signing your name.
Also, check with your bank or the credit card company’s fraud policy. If I spend over a certain amount in a short period of time, my bank will automatically start declining transactions. When we go on vacation, we always let the bank know. If not, they will think my card was stolen and start declining transactions.
4. Use a third party like PayPal to make purchases online.
I have to make the disclaimer that while I feel is best to use PayPal whenever possible, it’s not 100% protected from someone hacking their system. Hackers spend a lot of time trying to access the system as it would give them freedom to emails and passwords and the ability to anonymously make purchases all over the Internet using the cards that are associated with the account. The best strategy is to use only one credit card online and to use it with PayPal. So, if they are hacked, they only have access to one of your cards. It would be a nightmare to have to call five different card companies to cancel accounts.
5. Check your mailbox every day.
You’ve heard the phrase, never go to bed angry. Well, you should never go to bed without checking your mailbox. Leaving mail in your mailbox is an invitation for thieves to steal and your information and your identity.
We recently moved out of a neighborhood where there was a series of car break ins. This neighborhood was a very nice one in one of the cities most desired areas. There was one thing that was common among the break ins. Everyone left their car unlocked. Now, don’t judge them. They all thought it was completely okay to do this. Everyone knows each other. It’s the same with your mailbox. If you leave mail in there for a long period of time, you may have given trouble free access to your identity.
6. Review your online banking and credit card statements regularly.
We have 24/7 access to our bank statements and credit card statements. It’s called online banking. Don’t be lazy. You should be looking at these accounts several times a week, especially your bank statement. This is the best way to spot a problem quickly. If you see anything that looks off contact the bank or credit card company right away.
I mentioned a few services above that can help you learn more about managing your finances, checking and repairing your credit.
7. Get a credit monitoring service.
Equifax just recently experienced a breach potentially impacting millions of people. Even if you did everything above, you still run the risk of your personal info being compromised. Criminals can open accounts, buy items in your name and even file tax returns (exactly what happened to my husband). Identity theft protection from companies such as Lifelock is necessary for every family to protect you from these threats.
If you need a little help getting started, here are some great resources to help you get on track:
Financial Peace University
If you have not participated in any kind of financial planning course or program, I encourage you to do Financial Peace University. I went through this program before I got married and I insisted that anyone who wanted to marry me also go through this course. You will learn everything from saving and budgeting, paying off debt, insurance, building wealth and so much more. If you don’t choose Financial Peace, there are so many other programs that can help you get your finances back on track.
My husband’s credit score has come up nearly 200 points with Lexington Law. They offer free credit repair consultation, which includes a complete review of your FREE credit report summary and score. If you chose to become a member, they help you identify things that should be removed from your credit and they also help you identify what you need to do to raise your credit score.
This is just one of the many possible identity theft solutions. It’s important that we all do as much as we can to protect our identity, not just for ourselves but for each other as well. Whenever someone makes a fraudulent purchase we all pay, don’t think for a minute that the banks and credit card companies are going to absorb those loses, they will just pass them on to us in higher fees.
Have you ever been affected by identity theft? What did it do to you and your family? How were you able to overcome it?