(BPT) - The holidays may be over, but refund season is just beginning, and there's a lot to celebrate. This tax season, while consumers are eagerly awaiting their refund, tax preparation companies, tax officials and the IRS are working together to combat one of the fastest growing threats for tax season 2016 - tax identity fraud.
Based on IRS data, nearly 3 million people have been victims of tax identity theft since 2010. Every year, criminals use increasingly advanced tactics - particularly geared toward taxpayers filing online - to steal taxpayers' personal information, file fraudulent tax returns in their names and steal their refunds. After fraud occurs, it can take months and multiple steps by the victim to access a stolen refund and regain an identity with the IRS.
Protect your identity - and your refund - with these five tax tips from H&R Block:
1. File early and be cautious.Filing your taxes early will allow you to claim your refund before a criminal can. Before you file, protect your personal information by installing a security software with anti-virus and firewall protections.
2. Keep your paper records safe. Shred records you are no longer using and keep your social security card and any sensitive documents under lock and key.
3. Do not respond to individuals posing as a tax agency. The IRS does not demand immediate payment without sending a bill in the mail first. If you receive a phone call or an email with an external link, do not click on the link or share personal or financial information unless you personally know the person on the other end.
4. Change your password. The 2015 tax season saw a significant increase of tax fraud in the do-it-yourself (DIY) space. When using at-home tax software, such as H&R Block's DIY products, create a strong password with capitalization, numbers, and symbols or avoid the risk by visiting a tax preparer.
5. Use tax identity protection services.Visit the IRS website to learn more about how to protect your identity. Additionally, H&R Block's Tax Identity Shield provides clients with tools to reduce the risk of tax identity theft and resolution services, if a client becomes a victim of tax identity theft.
This tax season, take away the stress and put the 'fun' back in 'refund' by filing early. Plus, this year, you'll have a chance to boost your refund - as an extra incentive, H&R Block is celebrating refund season by awarding $1,000 a day to 1,000 people. The first drawing for this limited time offer is Jan. 16. Visit hrblock.com/grand for rules and an alternate method of entry. Enter early to protect your refund and for more chances to win.