File your taxes as early as possible in 2018

With the flurry of headlines regarding the Equifax data breach of 2017 and the upswing in consumer interest in freezing their credit reports, there was one possible consequence that tended to get overlooked in all the talk: fraudulent tax returns.

It’s understandable. When most of us think of identity theft, the first thing that comes to mind is someone opening credit accounts in our name. However, with the kind of data stolen in the Equifax breach and with at least some percentage of consumers placing credit freezes (making the “classic” form of identity theft more difficult), it is likely that many of the compromised records will be used to file fraudulent tax returns.

That means your best practice is to file your 2017 taxes as soon as you possibly can. If you have all your required documents in your hands by the end of January, that’s the time to file.

You’re playing the odds here; basically hoping that, if your information has been compromised and is in the hands of someone aiming to file a fraudulent tax return, that you can file before they get around to yours. The more people file right away, the more time the identity thieves will waste trying to file tax returns that have already been submitted.

That we’ve been reduced to “hurry up and file before someone else does” shows that there are some pretty deep flaws in our current systems of identification. The data points used to identity literally every single U.S. citizen are also extremely easy to steal and use for criminal purposes, and have likely already been at least partially compromised for every single person. I can’t even conceive of what an alternative system would possibly look like, but Social Security numbers and PINs and knowledge-based authentication aren’t cutting it. If I think of something, I’ll let everybody know (after I patent and trademark it, of course).