Tax season is officially here with Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, Feb. 3 – 7. While it’s important to be on high alert and protect your identity all year long, tax season is an especially vulnerable time.
Every tax season, identity thieves run a variety of scams to get their hands on taxpayers’ personal information. There are many types of scams that occur, but most have a common goal: filing a fraudulent tax return in your name.
Your Social Security number (SSN) can be lifted via data breaches, phishing scams or even a stolen Social Security card. Criminals who steal your SSN can use it to file falsified tax returns with the IRS and receive a tax refund. They hope to cash it in and disappear before anyone notices that something’s amiss.
You may not discover you’ve been a victim until you submit your tax returns and the IRS informs you that a return has already been processed. If this happens, it can severely delay any tax refund you might be owed and further complicate your taxes.
It pays to guard against tax identity theft. Here’s how to help protect your identity during tax season.
1. File Your Tax Return ASAP
Employers are required to provide you with income documentation, such as W2s and 1099s, by Jan. 31. By that time, you should gather all other necessary documents so you can prepare and file your tax returns as early as possible. This is the easiest way to help prevent tax fraud and identity theft scams.
While you have until the April 15 deadline, filing your tax returns now will give thieves a much smaller time window to file a falsified return in your name. Once you’ve successfully submitted your taxes to the IRS, criminals can no longer file a return in your name.
It’s a good idea to sit down and do your taxes (or make an appointment with a tax preparer) as early as you can. The longer you wait, the more time criminals have to steal your information and submit false returns.
2. Know How to Spot a Tax Season Scam
Criminals may try to steal your personal information via phishing scams. SSNs are important, but they might also want your name, address, employer and bank account information. That data should only be accessible to you, the IRS and state, and a trustworthy tax preparer if you hire someone to do your taxes.
If you receive any sort of unsolicited inbound communications – including emails, phone calls or text messages – that claim to be from the IRS or another party, you should never assume they are legitimate. Don’t open any attachments, click any links, call back a phone number or provide any information.
If you want to verify that a communication is legitimate, navigate directly to the entity’s website (such as irs.gov) and use its official communication channels to establish contact. According to the IRS, they never send unsolicited emails. Any suspected email phishing attempts should be reported to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Protect Your Information
You should take precautions to protect your info, including making sure your tax documents are kept in a secure place in your home and can’t be accessed by anyone else. If you keep records on your computer, they should be password protected on your desktop or in the cloud.
If you need to send tax documents to your tax preparer, transmit them in a secure manner. When hiring a tax preparer, take your time, do your research and don’t forget to ask what security protocols they have in place to protect your data.