And 2015 doesn’t look to be all too different on that front. As employees across the country begin receiving their W-2s, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is once again warning Americans about the dangers of tax season id theft. While the IRS has stepped up its efforts to curtail this crime — stopping 19 million suspicious-looking tax returns in the past four years, tantamount to $63 billion in potentially stolen refunds, according to CNN — millions more Americans continue to fall victim to this wave of fraud, not even realizing it until they’ve been notified that someone else has already filed their taxes and obtained their refund.
To that end, the IRS has supplied these recommendations for how you can help protect yourself from identity theft this tax season:
- Compare your credit reports: Checking your credit reports regularly can help you stay ahead of any potentially fraudulent activity happening on your credit file. The longer credit fraud occurs, the more havoc it can wreak. Staying aware by looking over your credit reports is key to minimizing any damage.
- Don’t carry sensitive information with you: Social Security cards, W-2 forms and any document with your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) are identity theft gold. Carrying these forms around with you leaves you open to the risk of having them stolen or lost, and ending up in the wrong hands. Leave these documents at home instead, out of plain sight, locked safely away from prying eyes.
- Double-check who you’re giving personal information to: Some may receive emails or calls from people purporting to be from the IRS, asking for your Social Security number or some other valuable piece of personal data. The IRS will never contact you in this way for information, so make sure to never respond to them and report the incident to the IRS.
- File early: The sooner you file your tax return, the less of an opportunity thieves have to do it for you.
- Safeguard your computer: It should come as no surprise that many identity thieves double as hackers. Ensuring that your computer is up-to-date on its firewall, anti-virus and anti-malware protection is essential for minimizing your risk of becoming a cyber attack victim. Make sure that your online accounts are all set up with their own unique passwords too. That way, in the event that a hacker gets their hands on the password to your Facebook profile, they won’t suddenly have access to your email and bank account too. Use a password manager app to help you securely keep track of these many passwords, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting them or writing them down on an easily stolen slip of paper.
When filing your tax return this year, make sure to sign up with a credit monitoring service that can alert you to certain kinds of activity on your credit file that many indicate potential theft.