Tax season isn’t just the money-making season for accountants and tax experts, it’s also when identity thieves cash in. According to MSN Money, the IRS has stopped nearly 15 million tax returns suspected of being fraudulent since 2011. But the government’s efforts to catch tax fraud aren’t foolproof: Over that same time span, Americans have suffered $3.5 billion in losses due to tax fraud. Tax scams are a pretty common means of trying to dupe consumers into handing over their personal information, so much so that the IRS releases an annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the top tax fraud methods. Consumers need to be vigilant of these efforts and protect themselves from common fraud attempts. Here are four tips to keep your personal information secure. Follow these tax time tips from PennySaverUSA.com to keep your identity from being stolen.
File Your Tax Return Early
According to USA Today, tax experts recommend filing your tax return early just as a matter of avoiding increased fraud risks. The earlier taxes are filed, the less prepared or capable scammers will be to take advantage of you. Since many scammers will try to file a fake return ahead of you in order to receive the fraudulent return funds, early returns reduce the likelihood of this happening. The IRS receives your legitimate return first, making fraudulent returns sent in later very easy for the agency to identify. Search listings on PennySaverUSA.com to find a tax center near you.
Prepare and File Taxes Over Secure, Private Wi-Fi
Thanks to online tax preparation tools, many individuals are now able to complete even complex tax returns on their own. This saves them money while putting the quality of their return in their own hands. But how you prepare and file these returns makes a big difference in how exposed you might be to tax fraud. According to USA Today, public Wi-Fi networks can make it easy for scammers to steal your personal financial information. When preparing and filing taxes, make sure you use a secure, private Wi-Fi network that cannot be accessed by strangers.
Use Identity Theft and Credit Monitoring Services
Taking the necessary precautions will drastically reduce your risk of being victimized by tax fraud, but even a careful approach can’t guarantee you won’t be targeted by scammers. In some cases, it could be months before you are made aware of the fraud that has occurred to you. By then, the damage has already been done.
To make sure you are notified of any fraudulent activity attached to your name, it’s wise to invest in a credit monitoring or identity theft monitoring service. Companies like Lifelock specialize in providing comprehensive monitoring services to stop identity theft before it strikes. And if you are victimized, these services will let you know right away, minimizing the damage and helping you respond proactively.
Never Sign a Blank Return
If you choose to have your taxes completed by a tax preparer, one key tip: Never sign a blank return. If you do this, you basically hand over to the tax preparer the ability to do whatever they’d like with your return, including sending it to another address, falsifying documents or other attempts to commit fraud. Wait until the return is completely finished and put your name to paper only when it’s ready to be delivered to the IRS.