Expect to receive phishing emails, because they are common and arrive constantly. Don't count on your email provider to catch all of them a lot of your junk and spam email is sitting in your inbox.
Scammers are able to create very real emails which appear to come from legitimate companies who do tax preparation or even the federal government. The first rule of thumb check the email address and the sender, said Roman Gonzalez, security experience director of Toopher, an Austin, Texas-based company with an invisible, location-based multifactor authentication and authorization software tool that works with your smartphone.
"As far as phishing emails, it takes being particularly aware and nimble this season to dodge them," he said. "Always do your research. Even the email address can be spoofed or cloned. So if you're suspicious, use caution. When in doubt with security, don't click on it."
Your best option is to go directly to the source or check the IRS website to be sure the company is registered with them, Gonzalez said.
Another tip used by security experts is to search for the company name and "scam" or "fraud." This will lead you to a list of people who have been duped before.
In 2013, the IRS said they investigated 1,492 cases of identity theft in 2013, a 66% increase over 2012. If anyone asks you for your personal information via phone, text, or email, don't provide it.
Use only secure websites, which means they have a green box in the URL bar. A secure Internet connections means you need a password to access your internet, so avoid filing from a hotel or library, Gonzalez said.
"For now, a lot of the onus falls on you," he said. "It may be a pain until companies adopt better, more user-friendly solutions, but the pain of having your identity stolen is considerably more lasting."
When creating online accounts, always refrain from reusing your passwords and use long, strong passwords and change them often, Gonzalez said. Remember your passwords with a password manager such as LastPass which gives you a multifactor authentication option of a second log-in step to protect your account even more, he said. Enable any additional security options the service provides.
Protect yourself from any potential scams or frauds by keeping your confidential information to yourself.
"Keep your own secrets," Gonzalez said. "Don't tell anyone your password or bank account information, nor any other kind of personally identifiable information. Any time you tell someone your dog's name, the city you were born in, your favorite sports team or your mother's maiden name, you are answering your bank account's security questions."
In 2013, 13.1 million consumers suffered identity fraud, which is the second highest level on record and 44% of all fraud involved an online transaction, according to a Javelin Strategy & Research survey.
You can minimize your risk of being a victim of identity theft by not carrying your Social Security number or card, do not give a business or individual your Social Security number and check your credit report every 12 months, the IRS said.
Swindlers have upped the ante and now not only steal your identity, but use it to file your taxes and obtain a refund check, said Tom Shaw, vice president of financial crimes for USAA, a San Antonio, Texas financial institution.
Many victims find out the hard way when they electronically file their taxes legitimately and receive a message that their taxes have already filed.
Shaw also recommends filing your taxes early since it can take up to six months for the IRS to resolve your case.
"It is very common," he said. "The fraudsters will take your information, file on your behalf and will get a refund check and will cash it. Unfortunately, it is very easy to do."
Fraudsters are now offering even more scams, such as promising an early refund. Do not click on any links with suspicious communications or open any attachments because it looks like it came from the IRS. The IRS will never send unsolicited messages to taxpayers and it doesn't ask for passwords or other personal information through these communication channels.
If you are victim of identity theft, report incidents to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or the FTC Identity Theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338 or TTY 1-866-653-4261. Consumers should also file a report with the local police and contact the fraud departments of the three major credit rating agencies: Equifax 1-800-525-6285, www.equifax.com; Experian 1-888-397-3742, www.experian.com and TransUnion 1-800-680-7289, www.transunion.com.
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--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet