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How Taxpayers Can Protect Themselves From Identity Theft During This Year's Tax Season

13 tips on how to avoid common scams while filing your tax returns
CHANTILLY, Va., March 15 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Tax season is well underway and identity thieves are already gearing up for another season of phishing, pharming, and conning their way into taxpayers' bank accounts and tax returns. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), more than 130 million taxpayers received refunds totaling nearly $300 billion during last year's filing season. Tax time involves the distribution and exchange of a lot of documents and communications that contain sensitive personal information including addresses, Social Security numbers (SSN), employer information, and bank account numbers that can be used to compromise or steal the identities of their owners. Identity thieves will use various scams and schemes this year to either forcibly gain access to this information or con taxpayers into willingly and unknowingly handing it over.

"The tax time scams we can expect to see this year will generally be a rehash of years past," said Intersections Inc.'s Consumer Security Adviser, Neal O'Farrell. "What will be different, however, is the increased level of sophistication used by identity thieves and fraudsters. We can expect more clever variations of these scams that will prey on fear, urgency, or greed. As fraudsters' methods of stealing become more advanced, taxpayers need to be educated and prepared for the various traps that await them."

In years past, fraudsters have used a number of methods to steal or obtain personal information. Fraudsters commonly masquerade as the IRS, calling and convincing unsuspecting tax payers to turn over their Social Security or bank account numbers in order to correct a factual error in their return or expedite the deposit of their refunds. Fraudsters have also distributed emails claiming to be from the IRS with attachments or links that contain Trojans or other malware that can easily empty the victim's bank account. And it's not just the mask of the IRS that has been used to con taxpayers into handing over data: consumers need to be cautious of emails or phone calls from property tax appraisers or local county tax assessors, which could just be another mask being used by identity thieves.

In order to help taxpayers avoid even the best laid identity theft traps, Intersections Inc. (Nasdaq: INTX), a leading global provider of consumer and corporate identity risk management services, and provider of IDENTITY GUARD½ TOTAL PROTECTION, the award winning identity theft protection service, has compiled a list of consumer tax season safety tips. Intersections wants consumers to stay safe and encourages everyone to take advantage of these tips and use extra caution and care when filing their taxes this season.

Top 13 Tips for a Safe & Secure 2010 Tax Season:

1. Be suspicious of any calls or emails purporting to be from the IRS, no matter what the issue. For example, some scams claim that someone else has already filed tax returns in your name or SSN. The IRS will always write to you first, will rarely call, and will never email you. 2. Never confirm your SSN or bank account details by email or over the phone. 3. If your bank or employer has been taken over lately, be wary of any calls asking that you confirm your tax information or employment status. 4. Guard your mail because it's especially attractive at tax time. Ideally, have your mail delivered to your front door and not to a curbside mailbox. Collect your mail as soon as you can and avoid putting your returns in a curbside mailbox -- take them to the post office instead. 5. If you plan to use an online tax preparation service, make sure you stick with a reputable one that has adequate security measures in place. Be wary of emails offering such services because they're often bogus. And be careful when typing in the URL or web address of an online service in case you misspell the name and end up on a fraudulent site that looks like the real one. 6. Make sure your computer is free of malware like computer viruses and spyware that can steal a copy of your SSN or bank account password. 7. Choose your tax preparer carefully and don't be afraid to ask them important security questions, such as how your information is protected in their offices during and after preparation, how long they keep a copy of your tax return, and whether they conduct background checks on their employees. 8. If you owe money to the IRS, try to pay online. If you have to pay by check, spell out the name "Internal Revenue Service" because it's harder to forge than the letters IRS. And don't drop the check in a mailbox -- take it to the post office. It's only once a year and is worth the extra effort. 9. Don't email tax information or returns to your accountant. Email is not a secure way to send any document. 10. If you make copies of your return on a photocopying machine, be aware that many machines keep a copy of your pages in short term memory! Using photocopiers in public locations is not recommended. 11. Don't forget to shred any unnecessary documents or copies when tax season is over. Dumpster divers will be on the prowl to get your banking account details and SSNs. 12. If you plan to keep a copy of your tax return on your computer, make sure it is password protected and encrypted to protect it from prying eyes. 13. Finally, check your credit report immediately after tax time and again a few months later to make sure that if your personal information was stolen, it is not being used against you.

About Intersections

Intersections Inc. (Nasdaq: INTX) is a leading global provider of consumer and corporate identity risk management services. Its premier identity theft, privacy, and consumer solutions are designed to provide high-value opportunities to its marketing partners, including leading financial institutions, Fortune 100 corporations, and other businesses. Intersections also markets full identity theft protection solutions under its brand, IDENTITY GUARD ( Intersections' consumer identity theft protection services have protected more than 30 million consumers.

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Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer, Dark Reading
Kelly Jackson Higgins 2, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading