9 tips for protecting your tax return from identity thieves

Fraudulently filing a tax return to get a refund has become a popular crime. You may not be able to thwart a determined thief, but these nine tips will tilt the odds in your favor:

  1. File early. Once you file your return, no one else can file a return under your Social Security number.
  2. Guard your Social Security number, as well as those of family members, so no one else can use them to file returns.
  3. In most cases, you only need to keep copies of old tax returns for three years. Destroy the old ones by shredding or burning.
  4. Don't provide your Social Security number to anyone over the phone or by email.
  5. The IRS won't communicate by email. If you get an email from someone purporting to be from the IRS, don't respond and instead contact the IRS yourself.
  6. If you e-file, make sure your computer or smartphone has proper anti-virus protection.
  7. If you e-file, don't save the information on your computer. Save it on a thumb drive or external hard drive, and use software to shred tax documents on your computer.
  8. If you file your return through the U.S. mail, be sure to send it certified, with a return receipt.
  9. If you plan to hire someone to prepare your tax return, make sure to vet the person or the company. See if they have been rated by the Better Business Bureau.

If you think you've been a victim of identity theft, you can seek advice through the IRS identity theft help page or with the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. Sources: Mark Steber, chief tax officer, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service; Nikki Junker, social media coordinator, Identity Theft Resource Center.

Main story: Tax ID theft skyrocketing

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Updated: 12-14-2018