Is an identity thief filing your taxes?

Unless you happen to be a 10-year-old reading this, I probably don't need to tell any of you not to share your social security number with anyone.

But here's yet another good reason to hang onto it: Double tax filing appears to be on the rise.

Double filing is the term used for filing your taxes twice. Happens to me all the time. It's just so much fun doing my taxes that first time, that sometimes I'll forget and just do them again.

Obviously, even the most absent-minded taxpayer isn't likely to do that, but it does happen, because some crooks, once they get someone's social security number, aren't content to ruin someone's life by taking out credit cards in that person's name. No, they have to do something really heinous like filing for that person's taxes and trying to collect a refund. Naturally, they rig the numbers so that they'll be sure to get a refund. And then when the real person files their taxes, they, of course, get a very unpleasant surprise.

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That happened to Michael Brown, a machine shop supervisor who works a night shift in Millington, a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee, according to a recent MemphisCommercial Appeal newspaper article. He filed his taxes earlier this month at an H&R Block, and then a few days later, his wife received a phone call. H&R Block was calling to let the Browns know that they can only file once. It seems the IRS called them, to let them know. And that's when Brown learned that someone had already filed under his name.

It's the second such time this has happened this year in Millington. And then if you start looking around, you'll find similar cases in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Amarillo, Texas, and on and on. It's become bad enough that last year, the IRS opened up a special department just to deal with identity theft and taxes. (It isn't only double filing that the IRS is concerned about. Emails from con artists purporting to be from the IRS are also popular ways to try and steal information.)

In any case, now we don't have to just fret whether we'll owe a lot on our tax returns -- we get to wonder if someone is collecting our refund, or a bogus one at that. As Brown told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the identity thief filed his taxes from New York City and didn't even have the right employer listed. "The system," says Brown, "is broken."

And if you're at all concerned that you and your taxes might be a victim of identity theft, you can check out the IRS identity theft resource page, chock full of good information.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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