Tax day is just a week away, but as you hurry to get your return in, experts say you must also take more care than ever to protect your identity.
You’ve got all your paperwork in order, all the forms filled in, and you click file online -- only to find someone else has beaten you to it, and snagged your refund.
It’s becoming an all-too-common experience: fraud around tax returns has become the single biggest type of identity theft reported to federal authorities. Estimates put the cost to taxpayers at more than $5 billion each year.
Eric Cernak of insurer Hartford Steam Boiler said it's gone from being something that happened in ones and twos to an underground industry.
"It used to be you were worried about dropping your wallet or your purse on the subway," he said. "And now, even if you are careful, you may become a victim of identity theft just because of the phishing schemes that are being deployed against employers around the country."
Those phishing schemes aim to harvest W2 data by the thousands, and the IRS said there’s been a 400 percent surge in incidents this tax season.
It means that while there are things you should do personally to mitigate your risk, ultimately your exposure may be out of your control.
And more and more taxpayers are aware of the issue. A recent survey by HSB showed that 67 percent of consumers are concerned about tax fraud this filing season.
Cernak said insurers are seeing more claims around this issue, and are offering services to help you put your affairs back in order.
"And that’s what I don’t think people really appreciate, is the level of effort and the time it takes to restore your identity," he told WNPR. "There’s a lot of phone calls that need to be made, a lot of explaining that needs to be done. Having a professional who does that day in and day out is an invaluable resource."
If you file online, Cernak said never do it over public wifi on a mobile device. And if you’re a paper filer, take your return personally to the post office counter and get the delivery certified. Then shred or securely store any paperwork that has sensitive personal information.