<p> For most working Americans, April is when they discover how much they owe in personal income taxes to the federal Internal Revenue Service and various state and local agencies.</p> <p> But every year, thousands of honest citizens find out something worse. Their identities have been stolen in tax-related <a href="">identity thefts</a>, and others are enjoying the benefits of their labor.</p> <p> Tax-related identity fraud happens in two ways, according to Joe Reynolds, a business insurance management and professional liability underwriting manager at Travelers Insurance in Hartford, Conn., and an identity fraud expert.&nbsp;</p> <p> In the first way, thieves gain access to your personal information by <a href="">redirecting your tax refund</a> to themselves. In the second way, someone uses your personal information to gain lawful employment and then defers the tax liability.</p> <p> Most citizens will find out pretty quickly after April 15 if their tax refunds haven&#39;t arrived. But it takes much longer to discover that someone else is living, working and leaving a tax burden under your name.</p> <p> Identity theft makes news every year around tax time, and for good reason &mdash; each year, millions of Americans become victims of fraud.</p> <p> While it is impossible to ensure that your personal information is totally safe, the IRS and tax professionals have tips to help you better protect yourself from tax-related identity theft. Here are a few.</p>

Don&#39;t respond to unsolicited email messages from the IRS

<p> The <a href="" target="_blank">identity-protection page</a> on the IRS website states that the agency &quot;does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.&quot;&nbsp;</p> <p> If you get an email message that claims to be from the IRS, it is almost certainly a phishing email designed to steal your personal information.</p> <p> Instead of replying to the message, forward it to the IRS at <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a>. Make sure you don&#39;t open any attached files.</p> <p> [<a href="">How to Tell a Phishing Scam From a Real Email</a>]</p>

Use the e-file option to file your tax return

<p> &quot;E-file encrypts sensitive tax information, which helps protect against identity theft,&quot; explained Michael Raanan, president of Landmark Tax Group in Santa Ana, Calif., and a former IRS officer.</p> <p> &quot;E-filing also expedites the processing time of the tax return, which may lead to a faster refund,&quot; Raanan said. &quot;Filing electronically helps prevent the chance that a taxpayer&#39;s information will be stolen resulting from a lost or misdirected paper tax return.&quot;</p> <p> The IRS offers free electronic filing to all taxpayers, regardless of income. Taxpayers can use this link to e-file for free: <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p> <p> [<a href="">Why You Need to Use Encrypted Email</a>]</p>

Use a licensed and reputable tax preparer or preparation firm

<p> Certified public accountants, tax attorneys and enrolled agents (federally licensed tax preparers) are regulated by IRS Circular 230.</p> <p> They are required to exercise due diligence when preparing, submitting and storing tax returns and tax return information, Raanan said</p> <p> &quot;Most tax practitioners use encryption software to store taxpayer information and secure portals to send and receive tax-related documents,&quot; he added. &quot;Using a licensed tax professional helps taxpayers ensure their personal information is being stored pursuant to the high standards and requirements set forth by the IRS.&quot;</p> <p> Consider double-checking your CPA&#39;s reputation with your local Better Business Bureau. The IRS can also verify reputable tax professionals.</p> <p> [<a href="">The IRS&#39; Dirty Dozen Tax-Fraud Scams</a>]</p>

Ask tax preparers how they keep your information secure

<p> You should always make sure the firm handling your taxes has insurance and policies in place to prevent identity theft and mechanisms to warn you if there is theft, said Vincenzo Villamena, a CPA with New York-based expatriate tax-preparation service Online Taxman.</p> <p> Don&#39;t forget to also ask how data is stored and discarded. Your preparer should be able to tell you who will have access to your tax-related information.</p> <p> [<a href="">Tax-Day Identity Theft Steals Thousands of Refunds Every Year</a>]</p>

Protect your Social Security number

<p> Your Social Security number (SSN) is the most important item an identity thief can steal. At tax time, the number is on almost every tax-related document you receive and file.</p> <p> Raanan recommends memorizing your Social Security number, as well as those of your dependents, and filing Social Security cards in a safe place.</p> <p> Because you&#39;re required to keep copies of tax documents for several years after filing, consider storing those copies in a locked filing cabinet or a safe. Discarded tax documents should be shredded.</p> <p> [<a href="">Asking for Identity Theft: The Risks of Social Security Number Overuse</a>]</p>

Make sure your computer is secure

<p> If you are e-filing, or if you have business- or tax-related documents stored on your computer, the computer should be protected with up-to-date anti-virus software and a good firewall.</p> <p> Be sure to also keep all your software, including the operating system, updated and fully patched for vulnerabilities.</p> <p> Consider keeping sensitive documents under password protection, especially if more than one person uses your computer.</p> <p> [<a href="">Best Way to Avoid Virus Infection? Update Your Software</a>]</p>

Stay aware and keep others informed

<p> If you suspect that you might be the victim of tax-related identity theft, contact the IRS immediately. When you receive your annual Social Security statement, take time to look it over.</p> <p> &quot;Verify all of the information is correct,&quot; Reynolds said. &quot;It is the best way to see if someone else is using your identity and incurring tax liability under your name.&quot;</p> <p> [<a href="">5 Simple Steps to Prevent Identity Theft</a>]</p> <p> <em>Follow us&nbsp;</em><a href="" target="_blank"><em>@TechNewsDaily</em></a><em>,&nbsp;</em><em><a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;</em><a href="" target="_blank"><em>Google+</em></a><em>.</em> </p>

7 Tax-Time Identity Protection Tips