Identity theft may be a year-round occurrence, but the Internal Revenue Service says the holiday season makes it easy, and consumers need to be careful.

This week is National Tax Security Awareness Week, when the IRS urges people to protect themselves from cybercriminals. 

The holiday season is an especially prime time for cybercrime, as more people are shopping online. Thieves can take advantage of the season to trick people into giving away sensitive information, which can then be used to file fraudulent tax returns.

There is a special concern for seniors and others who may be vulnerable.

More than 145 million Americans have had their personal information stolen from various places.

The IRS and states have been working to add new safeguards, and the IRS says those new measures have helped reduced the reporting of identity theft on tax returns since 2015. 

The IRS says there are some basic steps people should do to protect their tax and financial information:

  1. Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as banks, credit card companies and government organizations, including the IRS. Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
  2. Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Make sure the security software is always turned on and will automatically update. 
  3. Encrypt sensitive files such as tax records stored on computers. 
  4. Use strong passwords. Try not to repeat passwords.
  5. Don't use unprotected WiFi networks.
  6. Protect personal data. Use strong, unique passwords for each online account. Don’t routinely carry Social Security cards, and make sure tax records are secure. Treat personal information like cash; don’t leave it lying around.
  7. Shop at familiar online retailers. Also, stick to secure sites. Generally, sites using the “s” designation in “https” at the start of the URL are secure. 

The IRS will be offering more tips throughout the week. Head to the IRS website to see those tips and more information.