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You’ve been making plans for your tax refund for months. Unfortunately, when you file your return, the IRS responds with a notice that you’ve already collected your refund. Oh no! Now what?

Tax Crimes and Other Headaches

Social Security identity theft can lead to numerous tax problems and financial issues for innocent citizens. For starters, if someone else files a tax return using your number, that person can receive the refund that belongs to you.

Additionally, if someone gets a job using your Social Security number, that income will be reported to the IRS in association with your number. When the figures the IRS receives don’t line up with the earnings you reported on your tax return, the IRS may think you’re hiding income.

Social Security number theft can also destroy your credit. Criminals may open accounts in your name, which can leave you stuck with creditors seeking payment for purchases you never made.

Steps to Protect Your Social Security Number

Although there’s no 100 percent foolproof way to protect your Social Security number, there are steps you can take to decrease the odds that someone will steal it.

  • Protect your card. Your purse or wallet, which can easily be misplaced or stolen, is not the place for your Social Security card. Memorize the number and keep the card at home.
  • Share selectively. When asked for your Social Security number, ask why it is needed and how it will be safeguarded. If you are not comfortable with the answers you receive, you may choose not to do business with that company. In some cases, you may be able to supply just the last four digits.
  • Shred documents. Run mailings and paperwork that contain personal or financial information through a shredder.
  • Do not respond to phone or email requests. If you receive a phone call or email asking for your Social Security number or other personal information, turn down the request. If you are concerned that the business in question really needs your information, contact them directly to inquire.

If you believe that someone has been fraudulently using your Social Security number, report the issue to the Federal Trade Commission. Also contact the IRS, even if you haven’t experienced a tax problem yet.

The easiest way to deal with Social Security number theft, however, is to take preventative measures against it, so guard your number with care.

Meghan Ross is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.

For more information, visit CBS Philly’s Identity Theft section