4 tips to help protect your identity this tax season

(BPT) – Tax season is a busy time for everyone. From accountants and small business owners to families and individuals, especially as more people choose to file their taxes themselves. Unfortunately, it’s also a busy time of year for cybercriminals who use the flurry of activity to swindle sensitive personal information from unsuspecting victims.

In fact, the Norton Cyber Security Insights Reports revealed that online crime has become so prolific, 36 percent of U.S. consumers believe it’s only a matter of time before a criminal steals their identity.

Take for example, Melissa, a marketing manager from Chandler, Arizona, who last year received an alert from her online tax filing service that her account password had been changed. But she dismissed the notification as a mistake.

“Two days later I got an alert from LifeLock about a credit card that I hadn’t opened.”

Thinking this was strange, Melissa followed up with her tax filing service and found that a criminal had accessed her account, stolen enough personal information to open a credit account in her name and redirected her tax return to another account.

Fortunately, Melissa was able to resolve her case but she is just one of a staggering number of individuals who’ve fallen victim to criminals lurking the web. According to research from Symantec, cybercriminals launched more than 1 million web attacks against internet users every day in 2015. While this statistic may seem shocking, there are things you can do to help protect yourself and your identity from cybercriminals.

Start by applying these four simple tips to keep your personal information away from cybercriminals this tax season:

1. File your taxes as early as possible. The sooner you file your taxes, the harder it will be for criminals to file taxes on your behalf for a refund, which a thief can do with only your date of birth and Social Security Number. (And don’t think this information is difficult to find, it could already be for sale on the Dark Web if you were impacted by a data breach.) If you want some extra protection this tax season, consider contacting the IRS to see if you’re eligible for an Identity Protection PIN. It’s a six-digit code that is assigned to you by the IRS to help prevent misuse of your SSN on fraudulent federal income tax returns.

2. If you’re filing your taxes online, use a secure Wi-Fi connection or a Virtual Private Network (VPN). One of the best ways you can help protect yourself when e-filing is to use a secure internet connection and not a public Wi-Fi network. If you are not sure about the security of your internet connection, use a VPN – an easy-to-use technology that ensures a secure connection.

3. Remember the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) only communicates through the United States Postal Service. They will never request personal and/or financial information through email, text messages or social media sites. If you receive a letter in the mail and you’re not sure if it’s legitimate, use the IRS lookup tool to find your letter: www.irs.gov/individuals/irs-notice-or-letter-for-individual-filers

4. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, ask for their name, badge number and call back number. Report the call to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at 1-800-366-4484 and provide this information to confirm the authenticity of the caller’s request. If the caller isn’t willing to provide this information, hang up and report the incident to the IRS.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of an IRS scam, you may also report this to the TIGTA at their website: www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml. Don’t delay in doing so. After all, it’s your identity and it is up to you to protect it every single day.