Tax season is here again, and judging by trends over the last several years, over 1 million people could wind up being victims of tax fraud. In 2012, 1.2 million folks were affected by fraudulent tax filing, and in 2013, the number rose to 1.6 million.
In order to file a fraudulent tax return, crooks only need two things: a birthdate and a Social Security number. The perpetrators purchase prepaid credit cards to collect the return, and then use the cards to get cash from an ATM.
LifeLock, a company that specializes in protecting consumers from identity theft, offers these eight tips to avoid being a victim of tax fraud this year:
- Call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 if you have any concerns about your identity possibly having been stolen. You can do this before you even file your taxes to head off trouble at the pass.
- File your tax return early. Even if you owe money, you don’t have to send the payment until the April 15 deadline—but by filing early, you can get ahead of potential thieves.
- Use a secure Internet connection when filing electronically. Stay away from unsecure, public Wi-Fi hotspots.
- If you mail your return, take it directly to the post office. Don’t leave it in the mailbox for your postal carrier to pick up during the day, or in an open mail drop at your office.
- Shred copies of your tax return, as well as notes, drafts, or calculations you don’t need to keep for record keeping.
- If you hire someone to help you with your taxes, get references and make sure they are trustworthy before giving them your personal information.
- The IRS doesn’t contact people via email, text, or social media. If they need to get in touch with you, they will send paper mail. Don’t fall for a scam.
- Consider using a privacy-monitoring product such as LifeLock Privacy Monitor—a free tool that helps secure your personal information and lessen the chances you will be a victim of fraud.
According to the IRS, $5.2 billion was paid out in fraudulent tax refunds in 2013. However, they prevented an additional $24.2 billion in thefts during that same year. If you were affected by any of the numerous data breaches over the past year, your personal information could have been put at risk, and you should exercise caution when filing taxes this year.