COLUMBIA, Mo. – Identity thieves thrive during tax filing season.

Take steps to prevent those electronic criminals from lining their pockets with your refund and personal information, says University of Missouri Extension personal finance specialist Andrew Zumwalt.

First, file taxes promptly. Identity thieves try to file early so your refund goes to them before you file.

Second, use the services of trusted tax professionals. If you choose to prepare your own taxes and use a public computer, log out of any programs and clear the browser history before leaving the computer.

Third, remember that the Internal Revenue Service never makes initial contact with taxpayers by telephone. Impersonators demand credit card payment over the phone and threaten you with legal action if you don’t pay immediately.

Fourth, guard your identity. Don’t carry your Social Security card with you and don’t give your Social Security number to others. Safeguard your personal information in your home. Install trusted virus protection on your computers.

Finally, check your credit report every year to make sure your identity has not been breached. A free credit report from each major credit bureau is available annually at

If you think your identity has been stolen, go to to contact the Federal Trade Commission and learn how to set up a fraud alert. Also, fill out a Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit at

Zumwalt cautions people to use the genuine IRS website at .gov. Don’t be confused by Internet domain names that end in .com, .net, .org or other designations.

For more information from MU Extension on taxes and other financial topics, go to