Adulthood comes when nightmares are no longer the childhood terror of unfamiliar sounds in the night, but rather unexpected letters from the IRS.
A few days ago, such a monster came for me. Dutifully tucked in my mailbox by the postman, the plain white envelope was marked “urgent,” with an IRS return address.
My first thought, admittedly, was sheer panic. I have nothing to hide, mind you, and I do not cheat on my taxes, but the thought of an IRS audit surpassed all of my childhood fears combined.
Before opening the letter, my head was already swirling at the prospect of gathering scores of reciepts, W-2s, mileage forms, student-loan data and whatever else about my life Uncle Sam wanted to pry into. Honestly, I don’t even know where half that junk is anymore.
What came next was unexpected, but no less unsettling.
“Dear Tyler Jones,” the letter began. “Thank you for filing your 2016 tax return.”
Sounds harmless, right?
The problem: I had not filed my 2016 tax return yet. As a reporter whose life is run by deadlines, I always wait until the last minute to file.
The letter went on to tell me I’d need to make an appointment to come — in person — to an IRS office and confirm my identity using a litany of personal documents.
I spent about two hours on the phone that evening trying to explain to overworked and uninterested IRS employees that I had not, in fact, filed the return. Rather, a company I previously worked for had been the victim of a “data breach,” as my former employer called it. Who knows what the hackers stole, but it was enough to file a fake tax return in my name, apparently.
The next couple of months will be painful. Monitoring my credit, opening new bank accounts and countless hours on customer support hotlines are undoubtedly in my future.
I guess I should have figured this would eventually happen. It’s the world we live in now, and nothing is private or secure anymore. It’s enough to make a man want to close all his accounts and squirrel his money under his mattress. It would be no use, though; hackers would find some other way to intrude.
In retrospect, I suppose I should have monitored my credit and such more closely. As far as I can tell, so far, the hackers have not done any further damage, but the ordeal is far from over.
If this can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. This tax season, I urge you to watch your back. Don’t fall for scams, and remember the IRS will never ask you to send them money by phone. If you think someone is trying to scam you, hang up and call the IRS directly. Thousands of people every year fall victim to tax-season predators, and you don’t want to be one of them. It’s a headache that can last months, if not years.
In my case, though, the joke is on the hackers who stole my W-2s. I did, indeed, sit down and complete my tax return a few days ago — I just haven’t sent it in yet. Why? Because I owe the IRS a couple hundred bucks.
I wonder if the hackers will be so kind as to handle that for me, too.