5 tips to avoid identity theft

“Tax fraud is widespread and happening as you read this,” says security and identity theft expert for Credit Sesame, Neal O’Farrell. “In the first week of February, a grand jury indicted 16 people for running a tax refund identity theft scheme, where they used 11,000 stolen identities, complete with driver’s licenses and Social Security cards, to file bogus tax returns totaling $38 million. They had the refunds deposited in more than 3,000 phony bank accounts opened in 440 different financial institutions. This is clear evidence that these identity theft rings are well organized, patient and motivated.”

Credit Sesame encourages consumers to consider the following when filing their taxes this year:

1. File your taxes early
The best defense is to file early. The sooner you file, the less chance a thief has to file ahead of you and claim a refund. Victims of tax related identity theft say they now have to wait a year or more to get their refund after identity theft.

2. Watch your mail like a hawk
Watch your mailbox closely because identity thieves will be watching it too. As the IRS increases its vigilance for detecting identity theft and bogus returns, thieves need as much information as possible about you in order to fool the IRS. The easiest way to get that information is from your mail.

3. Choose your tax preparer carefully
Choose your preparer carefully and put thought into this. You always take a risk when handing over all your most personal financial information to an individual or company whose commitment to security and privacy might not be what you expect.

4. Write out: Internal Revenue Service
If you have to send a check to the IRS, make sure you spell out the words Internal Revenue Service on the check. A common scam is to steal mail looking for checks made out to the IRS, change the “I” to “M” or “T”, and simply deposit the check in an account opened in that name. It may be months before you discover the check has been stolen, and only after the IRS pursues you for non-payment.

5. Monitor and check your credit reports
If an identity thief has enough personal information to file a fraudulent tax return in your name, they also have enough information to open new accounts and take out loans in your name. When this happens, your credit reports are the first line of defense. Check your credit reports regularly, and take advantage of free online tools like Credit Sesame to get access to your free monthly credit score, plus free credit monitoring with real-time alerts to detect suspicious or fraudulent activity as soon as it occurs.

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