As tax season is well underway, many individuals who had their personally identifiable information accessed as a result of a data breach are now filing their annual tax returns and discovering that fraudulent tax returns have been filed using their Social Security numbers. For example, the information that was accessed during the Anthem data breach — names, Social Security numbers and birthdates — is all the information needed to file a fraudulent tax return.

In order to prevent a fraudulent tax return being filed, data breach victims should file their tax returns as soon as possible. Filing early is one way to get ahead of potential fraud. Due to the complexity of the situation, the IRS warns that resolving an alleged identity theft case is a time-consuming process.

In order to protect taxpayers from tax-related fraud, the IRS has implemented security measures, and suspicious returns and refund requests are being flagged and reviewed. If a fraudulent tax return has been filed using your Social Security number, you may receive a letter in the mail from the IRS asking you to log on to the IRS website and answer specific security questions in order to have your refund checks released.

In addition, if a fraudulent tax return has been filed using your Social Security number, you should consider obtaining a credit freeze (or security freeze) that blocks a third party from creating a new account or obtaining credit in your name. The freeze also stops anyone from accessing your credit report without your permission. Thus, even if an identity thief has your personal information and applies for credit, a creditor cannot access your credit report in order to decide whether to provide the credit. You can go to the following sites to put a credit freeze on your account:

Conversely, if you are applying for credit, you simply provide permission to the creditor to access your credit report in order to process your credit application.