As we approach spring quarter, a crucial time of year is on the horizon: the deadline to file your taxes. Early April is prime time for criminals who want to commit identity theft and file fraudulent tax returns. They target the time just before and just after most companies release W-2 statements.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, tax-related identity theft is the most common type of identity theft. Always protect your Social Security number (SSN) and your personal tax information. If you e-file, the IRS has added safeguards to reduce fraud. If you use a preparer, the IRS has provided them with guidelines to protect your information.

Email is a common method for tax-related fraud, with criminals often impersonating the IRS through messages that look official but are actually a scam. However, there are simple steps to help protect yourself from falling victim to these scams:

  • Implement a PIN. As an extra layer of protection, the IRS offers an optional PIN for all taxpayers who can verify their identity. This PIN helps prevent scammers from filing a return with your SSN because it allows the IRS to confirm your identity when you file electronically or by mail. 
  • File early. The IRS will only accept one single return for each Social Security number. Filing early can help limit the possibility of a criminal using your SSN to file a false return. 
  • Be vigilant and skeptical. Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source. Even if the email is from a known source, the recipient should approach with caution. 
  • Remember that the IRS won't spontaneously ask taxpayers for personal or financial information by email. This also includes asking for information via text messages and social media channels. The IRS does not call taxpayers with aggressive threats of lawsuits or arrests.
  • Use strong passwords and multi-factor authentication (MFA). Experts recommend using a minimum of ten digits, including letters, numbers, and special characters. In addition, always enable MFA when provided to add an extra layer of security. 
  • Report phishing scams. Taxpayers can forward suspicious emails to


Despite best efforts to hinder criminals, you may become a victim of identity theft and tax fraud. If this happens to you, the IRS has published guidance to assist you in overcoming it. The California Attorney General also has helpful information here.

Remember, the risk of identity theft and tax fraud doesn't stop after April 18 and will continue throughout the year. Always stay vigilant and take steps to protect yourself and your personal information online.