Tax season is here, and the fact that you can file your taxes online means that scammers can try that, too — and they may already have enough of your personal information to do so.

There are two simple ways to thwart this effort: File a return before a criminal does, and sign up for the IRS’s new PIN program.

Around 80 percent of Americans now file their tax return online, according to data from the IRS. And tax fraud has become a big business: The agency identified $2.3 billion in tax fraud in 2020. More than 100,000 people reported fraud that stemmed from either from tax- or employment-related identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Since the U.S. has no designated national identification system, the IRS still relies heavily on taxpayers providing their Social Security number to authenticate they are who they say they are. But with SSNs so frequently used for identification, and data breaches so common, experts say everyone should assume that criminals have everything they need to file a false tax return.

“The Social Security number is being used in a way it was never intended to be used,” said Eva Velasquez, the president of the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit that helps victims of identity theft.

The sheer number of companies that ask for and store Americans’ SSNs — and then lose them to hackers — means that the number of people who have not been compromised “is effectively zero,” she said.

“We need to acknowledge that,”…

Read more…