A thief may use sensitive information, such as a Social Security number, to claim a fraudulent tax refund, open fraudulent credit cards and commit other criminal acts that may take months, if not years, to correct.
Tax-related identity theft is a continuing problem. In fact, the National Tax Advocate reports that the use of stolen Social Security numbers to collect fraudulent tax refunds increased more than 78 percent from 2011 to 2012, affecting nearly 450,000 individuals.
ProtectMyID recommends the following tips to help safeguard your identity during tax time:
- Place tax documents in a secure location, such as a safe or a locking file cabinet, and store them there until needed to prepare tax forms. Do not leave them in a car.
- Some tax apps require users to take photos of W2 forms. Be sure to delete images after use.
- Password-protect your smartphone.
- Do not follow links in emails or text messages to the IRS site — always type "irs.gov" directly into a browser to avoid vicious links. Report fraudulent IRS emails, texts or phone calls to email@example.com.
- Keep operating systems and all computer protection software up to date.
- Do not use public computers to e-file taxes.
- Ask tax preparers about computer security measures employed by their offices.
- Don't work with tax preparers who ask clients to sign blank tax returns.
- Wipe the hard drive before disposing of or donating an old computer that contains personal or financial information.
- Monitor credit reports regularly.