The Internal Revenue Service is upping its game when it comes to combating identity theft.
The IRS says it began 1,492 criminal investigations into the use of fraudulent tax return filings in fiscal year 2013, which is welcome news for filers ahead of the busy upcoming tax return season where fraud runs rampant. This is an increase of 66% over investigations from the year prior, the report states.
According to Matt Cullina, CEO of IDT911, tax fraud was a $3.6 billion dollar business for criminals last year.
“This issue was a runaway train for awhile,” Cullina says. “The reason why it’s so common is that just like any other fraud opportunity, the money is there and there hasn’t been a ton of scrutiny. The people who commit this fraud do so because they can, with little recourse.”
All a fraudster needs in order to commit tax fraud is your name, date of birth and Social Security number, Cullina warns.
Here are a few tips from Cullina ahead of tax filing season to help keep your identity, and return, safe:
No. 1: Practice paranoia. You can never be too careful about collecting and protecting your W-2 forms, Cullina says.
“Keep on top of your W-2 form in the mail,” he says. “If you are employed, your form should come around this time by snail mail. If you don’t get your return by January 15, you should talk to your employer.”
Getting a hold of a W-2 makes it very easy for fraudsters to steal your identity and file a false return using the personal information provided on the form.
No. 2: Don’t wait till the last minute. Believe it or not, Cullina says those committing fraud take care of their personal filings early so they can better focus on identity theft as the April deadline approaches.
“If you wait until March or April to file, you may find out yours is rejected,” he says.
No. 3: Protect your child’s identity. Children have increasingly become targets of identity theft and being falsely claimed as dependents, according to Cullina.
“A big crime of opportunity is stealing your kid’s Social Security number,” he says. “Parent’s don’t realize until their own filing is rejected.”
No. 4: Vet your preparer. If you plan to hire someone to file your return this year make sure he or she is a legitimate professional, Cullina warns.
“Ask how they are protecting their data, and be sure there are no complaints against them,” he says.
No. 5: Be aware of schemes. If you are filing your own return and using tax filing software, be sure you keep all of your personal data on a separate drive rather than on your personal computer where it can be easily hacked, Cullina says.
“Also know that if an email message comes in and says it’s from the IRS, it’s probably someone trying to take advantage of you,” he says. “Make sure you are the one initiating contact, typing in URLs, and going to sites yourself. The IRS is not in the business of sending you emails.”