Would You Rather Get a Root Canal or File Your Taxes?

Joe Gervais, Security Communications Director at LifeLock

Roughly one in six Americans despise filing their taxes so much that they’d rather get a root canal.

I get it — filing taxes isn’t fun. Just like having dental work done, filing taxes can be a painful experience. But tax season can get even worse if you become a victim of tax-related identity fraud.

The Reality

Anyone, anywhere at any time can become a victim of tax-related identity fraud. It’s an easy crime for thieves to commit, and a lucrative one too.

In 2016 alone, the IRS identified approximately $4.1 billion in fraudulent tax refunds tied to identity theft, involving more than 780,000 fake tax returns. It’s a big deal. And it will make filing your taxes an even bigger headache if you’re on the receiving end.

Tax refund fraud — when someone uses your stolen personal information to fraudulently file and claim a tax return — is one of the biggest challenges facing the IRS and thousands of taxpayers.

It’s an easy crime for criminals to commit — all they need is:

1) Your Social Security number

2) Name

3) Date of birth

The thief doesn’t even need to worry about waiting for the right documents and W-2 statements to show up. They simply make up all the numbers to make sure they get a nice tax return paid out to them. And there’s really no way for you to find out what they’ve done until you try to file your own taxes, only to have the IRS reject your paperwork because a thief got there first.

For example, LifeLock member Ian from Austin, Texas, found out he was a victim of tax-refund fraud the same week he and his family were moving across country. Ian and his wife received a notification that their email account had been breached and just days later their accountant discovered someone had already fraudulently filed their return

It gets worse. If a thief has the information to file a fraudulent tax return in your name, they already have everything they need to commit other types of identity fraud and theft at your expense.

While I can’t promise you can avoid the misery of a root canal, there are ways you can avoid the pain of having your identity stolen this tax season.

Stop Procrastinating

Tax Day is quickly approaching. The most important thing you can do is file now. Filing early, before the criminal does, is one of the best ways to lower risk of tax-refund fraud. Once you’ve filed your tax returns, a thief can no longer file a fraudulent return in your name. The first tax return to reach the IRS wins.

If you’re worried about owing taxes, there’s good news. No matter how early you file your taxes, your payment doesn’t have to be postmarked until the day taxes are due. So there’s really no reason to delay filing, and some really good reasons to file them as soon as possible.

Despite this, nearly a quarter of Americans wait until the final weeks before submitting their taxes, according to a recent LifeLock survey conducted by Harris Poll. So stop procrastinating. You’ll not only get some peace of mind, you may even get that nice tax refund sooner.

5 More Things You Can Do

The good news is there are 5 more actions — beyond filing early — that individuals can take to reduce risk of tax-refund fraud and help secure their personal information:

1) If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, contact the IRS to see if you’re eligible for an Identity Protection PIN. It’s a six-digit code assigned to you by the IRS to help prevent misuse of your social security number on fraudulent federal income tax returns.

2) Watch out for fake “phishing” emails disguised as being from by the IRS. If you receive one, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. The IRS will never contact you by email, text, or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will contact you by regular mail.

3) Don’t use public Wi-Fi hotspots to file your tax returns online. Just because a public Wi-Fi hotspot requires a password does not mean that your data is safe from an attacker on the same network.

4) Monitor your credit cards for unauthorized charges, as well as your credit report for new accounts that you didn’t open. Fraudulent activity may indicate that you’re at higher risk of further fraud, including stolen tax refunds.

5) Store copies of your tax returns in a safe, secure place. Shred all sensitive documents you don’t need anymore.