Despite the Internal Revenue Service's best efforts, tax identity theft is skyrocketing, according to the IDentity Theft 911 Fraud Resolution Center.
The number of tax-related identity theft cases referred to the Resolution Center jumped by more than 200 percent in March, compared with the same period last year.
The cause? More people who file their taxes in March are discovering they're victims—that someone has already used their Social Security number to file a fraudulent return and claim their refund. Additionally, repeat victims who experienced tax fraud in 2012 and had it resolved are discovering that they've been victimized again for their 2013 filing.
So what can you do about it? To lessen the chances of becoming a victim:
• File your tax return early in the tax season, if you can, before identity thieves do.
• Use a secure Internet connection when filing electronically. Or mail tax returns directly from the post office. Don’t use publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots at coffee shops or a hotel lobbies.
• Shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets that are no longer needed.
• Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.
• Know the IRS won’t contact you by email, text or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will contact you by mail.
• Don’t give out your SSN or Medicare number unless necessary. Ask why i's needed, how i's going to be used, and how it will be stored.
• Get recommendations and research a tax preparer thoroughly before handing over personal information.
If you suspect you're a victim, follow these steps:
• Contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 if your SSN has been compromised.
• Check your credit report at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.
• Contact your providers. Many insurers, financial institutions and employee benefits offer identity management services through IDentity Theft 911. To learn more, call 1-888-682-5911.
• Pay extra attention to other accounts, statements and documents. Also look for signs of fraud in your medical files, on your Social Security statement, in insurance claims, or in public records. Check statements for charges that aren’t yours.
• Enroll in free transactional monitoring programs that are offered by your bank, credit union and credit card company so that you will immediately be notified of all activity in your accounts.
Brett Montgomery is Fraud Operations Manager at CyberScout.