Extension filers: Only left to file your taxes by October 17
Hide Arrow

TurboTax / Tax Calculators & Tips / All Tax Guides / Tax Planning and Checklists / 10 Steps to Avoiding Tax-Return Identity Theft

10 Steps to Avoiding Tax-Return Identity Theft

Updated for Tax Year 2016


Someone who steals your identity for tax purposes is probably not intending to pay your back taxes for you. He or she is after your tax refund. Make sure your refund ends up in your hands and not that of a thief by practicing a few simple habits that can protect your personal information.

1. Leave Your Social Security Card Home

Woman holding a tablet

Tax-return identity theft almost always involves a stolen Social Security number (SSN), since the IRS and state tax authorities use these numbers to identify taxpayers.

  • The thief uses your stolen SSN to file a fraudulent tax return early in tax season — before you're likely to file — and then pockets the refund.

To prevent identity theft, leave your Social Security card at home in a safe place and don’t carry any document that has your SSN on it.

2. Keep Your SSN Private

Credit cards in wallet on table

Since protecting your SSN is critical, keep it private. Provide your SSN to others only when absolutely necessary — don’t give it out just because a business asks for it or over email. Also, check your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually to make sure all your information is accurate.

3. Make Your Passwords Work for You


You don't have to be tech-savvy to protect your accounts from hackers. Start by choosing a strong, unique password for each financial site you use, such as online banking, tax or brokerage accounts. Don't have your computer automatically save passwords, especially on work computers, and change passwords regularly.

4. Protect Against Computer Spam and Viruses

Professional business woman using laptop

Take advantage of the security software updates your operating system offers and make it a habit to use a firewall and anti-spam and anti-virus software. Before you donate or recycle an old computer, consider using a data wipe program to make sure nobody can recover your hard drive data. Alternatively, remove the hard drive and have it professionally destroyed.

5. Keep Financial Information Private

Filing cabinet

Thieves who can't hack into your computer for your financial information may try to get your information in other ways. Be wary of providing personal information over the phone or through the mail. Unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know the person you're talking to, it's better just to say no.

6. Beware of Phishing

Checking emails on laptop

Phishing is a term for online scams that use official-looking emails that seem to come from the IRS or your bank, but actually are from thieves seeking your SSN, bank account information or passwords. Always be suspicious of this kind of email. The IRS never requests financial or personal information in email communications, and neither do legitimate companies. In addition, the IRS won't call you to tell you that you owe taxes. They will send you a letter.

7. Shred Bank and Tax Documents

Bucket of shredded paper

Thinking like a thief helps you reduce your risk of identity theft. Consider your tax documents, receipts and bank statements as potential trapdoors that allow entrance into your personal life. If you want to dispose of these financial documents safely, shred them.

8. Reduce Credit Card Solicitations

Stuffed mailbox

Even if you aren't interested in that credit card solicitation, a thief might be. He could plan to get a credit card in your name as a first step toward obtaining your SSN. Treat these pieces of junk mail like dangerous documents by:

  • Shredding credit card solicitations.
  • Getting off the list for pre-approved credit card offers by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT.
  • Reducing junk mail by changing your preferences at the Direct Marketing website.

9. Keep On Top of Data Breaches

Casually reading a newspaper

With so many data breaches making headlines in recent years, it's more important than ever to safeguard your information and check for fraud. Not every type of stolen personal information will result in tax-related identity theft, but there are things you can do to help prevent becoming another victim including:

  • Find out what type of data was taken, if you receive notice of a data breach or computer hack.
  • Stay in close contact with the affected company and find out what it's doing to protect you.
  • Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a "fraud alert" on your credit record.
  • Fill out and send IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit.

10. Lock Up Your Mailbox

Locked mailbox

Getting a locking mailbox prevents just anyone from checking to see what mail you've received. Since letters may contain private financial information, a locking mailbox can also prevent identity theft.

Get every deduction you deserve

TurboTax Deluxe searches more than 350 tax deductions and credits so you get your maximum refund, guaranteed.

For only $54.99*
Sign Up

Looking for more information?

The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

Security is built into everything we do
Here's how
* Important Offer Details and Disclosures

  • Try for Free/Pay When You File: TurboTax online and mobile pricing is based on your tax situation and varies by product. Free 1040EZ/A + Free State offer only available with TurboTax Federal Free Edition; Offer may change or end at any time without notice. Actual prices are determined at the time of print or e-file and are subject to change without notice. Savings and price comparisons based on anticipated price increase expected in March. Special discount offers may not be valid for mobile in-app purchases.
  • Anytime, anywhere: Internet access required; standard message and data rates apply to download and use mobile app.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice.
  • TurboTax Expert Help, Tax Advice and SmartLook: Included with Deluxe, Premier and Self-Employed (via phone or SmartLook); not included with Federal Free Edition. Feature availability varies by device. State tax advice is free. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2015 TurboTax products.
  • Most Popular: TurboTax Deluxe is our most popular product among TurboTax Online users with more complex tax situations.
  • CompleteCheck: Covered under the TurboTax accurate calculations and maximum refund guarantees.

  • TurboTax CD/Download products: Price includes tax preparation and printing of federal tax returns and free federal e-file of up to 5 federal tax returns. Additional fees apply for e-filing state returns. E-file fees do not apply to New York state returns. Savings and price comparison based on anticipated price increase expected in March. Prices subject to change without notice.
  • Fastest refund possible: Fastest tax refund with e-file and direct deposit; tax refund time frames will vary.
  • Pay for TurboTax out of your federal refund: $X.XX Refund Processing Service fee applies to this payment method. Prices are subject to change without notice. This benefit is available with TurboTax Federal products except TurboTax Business.
  • About our TurboTax Product Experts: Customer service and product support vary by time of year.
  • About our credentialed tax experts: Live tax advice via phone is included with Premier and Home & Business; fees apply for Basic and Deluxe customers. State tax advice is free. Service, experience levels, hours of operation and availability vary, and are subject to restriction and change without notice. Not available for TurboTax Business customers.
  • #1 best-selling tax software: Based on aggregated sales data for all tax year 2015 TurboTax products.
  • Data Import: Imports financial data from participating companies. Quicken and QuickBooks import not available with TurboTax installed on a Mac. Imports from Quicken (2015 and higher) and QuickBooks Desktop (2011 and higher); both Windows only. Quicken import not available for TurboTax Business. Quicken products provided by Quicken Inc., Quicken import subject to change.