As tax season gets underway, experts are warning that this year, we're more vulnerable than ever to tax identity theft.
Fortunately, there's a new way to protect your return.
For years, thieves have been stealing personal information, filing fake tax returns and snagging massive refund checks intended for hardworking taxpayers.
This year, the pandemic is only making the problem worse.
"The problem is going to be even worse this year because we're on a record-setting pace, I think somewhat due to the pandemic, in the number of data breaches we've had," said author of Identity Theft Alert Steve Weisman.
Weisman said there are several ways to protect yourself.
"The first thing to do is to file as early as you can, because if you file your tax return before the income tax identity thief, you're going to be able to beat them," explained Weisman.
Acting Special Agent in Charge for the IRS Boston Field Office Ramsey E. Covington said it's also important to hire a reputable tax preparer.
"They can go to IRS.gov and look up their tax return preparer to determine if they are enrolled in IRS tax filing systems," said Covington.
You can access the tax return preparer directory here.
New this year: anyone can request a PIN for a second layer of protection when filing.
"Even if the income tax identity thief had your social security number, they would not be able to file a return that the IRS would pick up because they wouldn't have your PIN," explained Weisman.
He continued, "This is something that I urge absolutely everyone to do. There's no downside to it and it can significantly help you avoid income tax identity theft."
You can request a PIN here.