spike in identity theftIdentity theft is on the rise, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. According to the Federal Trade Commission, it saw an unbelievable 47% spike in identity theft complaints between 2014 and 2015. While a number of different types of crime contributed to this increase in complaints, the primary fuel behind the fire was tax fraud. Considering conventional wisdom when it comes to protecting yourself has shifted to taking the formerly drastic measure of freezing your credit as a precautionary step and identity theft being thought of as a “when, not if” scenario, it should be no surprise that the government is working hard to track the causes and try to prevent the problem from growing any worse. To this end, the FTC has created a new website for consumers to report identity theft.

New FTC website aims to help streamline reporting process

In an effort to help people combat identity theft of all kinds, the FTC has set up a new website — https://www.identitytheft.gov — where it can be reported and a recovery plan can be provided specific to the situation. Even if you don’t have a specific case to report, you can browse recovery tips and checklists to learn more about protecting yourself in the event that your identity is compromised. Should you need to report identity theft, you will be guided through a simple questionnaire to determine exactly what kind of recovery plan is needed.

FTC

After deciding which option best fits your situation, you’ll be asked a few more questions to further specify your needs. Finally, the site will present you with a checklist of steps you can take to help begin the process of protecting and reclaiming your identity. For example, if you indicate that your information was exposed in a breach, you’ll be asked to choose from a list of recent breaches or select “A breach not listed here.” If you selected the Office of Personnel Management breach, your checklist will include links to the official pages on the breach as well as a checklist of steps you can take to protect your social security number and your children’s identities (since both were exposed in this breach).

In addition to resources and information about identity theft, identitytheft.gov also offers live chat support for help with navigating the website and filing your complaint, as well as a page with the contact information of multiple credit agencies, government agencies and other companies that someone might need to get in touch with in the event their identity is stolen.

How can I protect myself from tax fraud?

While there is, sadly, no way to completely prevent tax fraud (or any other form of identity theft), there are some measures of protection you can take to make it less likely that you will be a victim — as well as ensure it will be easier to recover in the event you do become a victim. One of the biggest things to remember about tax identity theft is that the earlier you submit your tax return, the smaller the window a thief will have to beat you to the punch. E-filing is your best bet for a timely and more secure submission process. To learn more about the best services for filing online, you can read our tax preparation reviews.

Second, it’s wise to be aware of the tactics scammers might use to take advantage of you during tax season (as well as the rest of the year). You can follow our scams blog to keep yourself up to date on the latest tricks and traps awaiting you. Reading up on the latest changes with how the IRS operates can also be helpful to keep you in the know so the wool isn’t pulled over your eyes. For instance, starting this year the IRS is legally allowed to use private debt collectors to track down people who owe back taxes. In the past, people could rely on the knowledge that the IRS would never contact them by telephone for any reason, but now you can’t be too certain so it’s vital to be vigilant when dealing with any callers claiming to represent the IRS.

Finally, although it probably won’t do any good when it comes to tax fraud, signing up for an identity theft protection service can be a helpful tool to keep yourself alert to any changes in your credit reports. These services can also be helpful in monitoring for your personal information on the Internet black market to alert you if anything is being traded, sold or otherwise used illegally. Families with children under 18 can also benefit from a service with a family plan, since children are more vulnerable than ever after recent data breaches in the healthcare industry and children’s tech toy companies exposed millions of kids’ information.

It’s likely the spike in identity theft complaints over the past year will continue to be a trend into 2016, but efforts to combat it are being made by the FTC and other government agencies. You can do your part by paying attention to who has your information and how it’s being used.