Recent breaches could have your tax return at risk

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) -

As millions of Americans prepare to wade into the sea of tax forms, financial experts say it is important not to wait until the deadline.

It's not because they are looking to cash in on tax season; its because identity thieves are looking to steal the money you are owed.

"They are even more sophisticated," Brad Zucker with Safe Money Advisors said. 

Zucker is talking about as many as 143 million social security numbers potentially in the hands of criminals in the wake of the Equifax breach last year.

"Scammers can use those numbers to file fake tax returns, stealing people's refunds," Zucker said. 

The breach may have made a common tactic even easier.

In 2016, the IRS paid out $239 million in fake refunds, but managed to stop another 787,000 identity theft returns totaling more than $4 billion.

If thieves file a fake return in your name before you submit your legitimate return, you could be in for months of fighting before getting the money you are owed.

"We've had grown adults break down in tears because information was stolen," Zucker said. 

 So the easiest way to protect yourself is to file early.

"Let the IRS get your legitimate tax return before the scammers have a chance to get a shot at your information," Zucker said. 

Zucker also said it is important to watch your mailbox for your W-2 and other tax documents.

Scammers are known to target community boxes this time of year in hopes of cashing in.

One last tip is for those e-filing, do your tax return on your own wi-fi network.

Zucker said you should never use public wi-fi.

While credit freezes will stop someone from opening a new credit card or taking out a loan in your name, it will not protect your tax return.

That being said, the IRS has dozens of filters in place to help identify nefarious returns, but it is meant as a last line of defense.

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