Tax identity theft is on the increase. In 2015, there was already a 50 percent increase from the previous year, and this has continued to soar higher. With only a few weeks left this tax season, tax identity theft has become a big concern to most taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Tax identity theft, which essentially involves using the victim’s Social Security Number to file a tax return and then steal his or her refund, is one of the easiest means of making money for cybercriminals during tax season. As a good citizen trying to fulfill your obligations to the nation, you might want to keep your tax identity as safe from cybercriminals as possible to prevent identity theft.
This does not involve any special efforts. With a little diligence and caution, you can easily thwart any illegal access to your private data.
We have outlined a few precautionary steps you can take this tax season to ensure your tax identity is safe, and, above all, prevent cybercriminals from laying their hands on your refund.
1. Phishing and Malware
The IRS will never send you an e-mail. Be suspicious of any e-mails from the IRS asking for your Social Security number or asking for your tax details. It’s not from the IRS and should be neglected. Avoid clicking on e-mails from a tax preparer website. Those can be from cybercriminals and can easily redirect you to a website like the one for your tax preparer. This is a way cybercriminals get every piece of data you input. To prevent this, type your tax preparer’s address on your browser’s address bar.
Regularly scan your devices for Malware. Malware often sits on devices for months reading and sending private data over the Internet to cybercriminals. Regularly scan your devices with the latest antivirus software to keep it out.
2. File Your Tax Returns Early
One of the best ways identity thieves make money is by filling fake tax returns on behalf of unsuspecting victim, pocketing tax refunds and leaving you a mess with the IRS to clean up later In fact, the IRS paid out $3.1 billion in refunds to identity thieves in 2014, according to a 2016 report from the General Accounting Office.
To get ahead of criminals, it’s advisable no to wait until the last minute to file your tax returns as the IRS only allows one tax return per Social Security Number.
3. Always Check with the IRS
With most taxpayers filing taxes electronically, it is easy for anyone to pose as a tax preparer, only to run off once he or she gets hold of your tax identity.
The IRS has provided a simple solution to this problem. Anyone can easily find out if the preparer is registered with the IRS by visiting its website. This way, you only get to reveal your tax identity to certified tax preparers.
4. Keep Your Data Safe
Most tax preparers offer you the ability to easily fill out your tax form, scan it, and send to them using your mobile devices. After doing this, make sure you shred the tax forms to prevent others from stealing data from it. It’s also prudent to delete all tax data from your hard drive after you securely back them up.
5. Stay Away from Public Wi-Fi And Hotspots
Public Wi-Fi or hotspots are not ideal for paying your taxes. They are open, and just about anyone can view what is being sent or received. You don’t want just everyone seeing the tax information you’re sending.
To prevent this, avoid using public Wi-Fi. However, if you must, only use it with a strong virtual private network (VPN) that can help encrypt your data before sending it.