Tax season is here. For most of us that means the headache of crunching numbers and rebalancing the budget to pay Uncle Sam. But, tax time takes on a different meaning to identity thieves.
Most of the documents needed for taxes are very revealing. These documents contain your name, address, credit and financial account information and most importantly, your SSN. For the identity thief, it means that there is a treasure chest of information to be targeted in the next two months. Please follow the ID Theft prevention checklist for ways to keep your personal identifying information out of the hands of would-be thieves.
ID Theft Prevention Checklist:
- Document Disposal – Once you have gathered the receipts, paperwork and the various forms you need to calculate your taxes, make sure that any papers you no longer need go through a good, cross-cut shredder. Papers with credit card account numbers, Social Security numbers (health benefit payment forms), loan papers, and such all have information that a thief can convert into a new credit account in your name. This tip also applies to all the papers you decide to dispose of from previous years. Just because a receipt is 7-years old does not mean it cannot be used to your detriment.
- Computer Security – Many of us do our taxes or prepare our information for tax professionals on our computers. If your computer links to the Internet it must have firewall software to protect it from invasion.
- Mail Theft – Since these tax forms have a lot of information on them, the best advice is to take the forms directly to the post office, dropping them in a box INSIDE the post office. It is best to not drop them in an outside box after last pick-up of the day since that gives a thief more opportunity to steal the mail. Do not leave them in the outgoing box at work, drop them at the corner blue box or leave them in an unlocked box for pickup. Consider sending your tax return by certified mail so that you know it has arrived safely and is transported with greater care than normal mail. On-line tax filing removes mail theft as a threat.
- Social Security Number on the Check – Since your check goes through so many hands, it is best not to print your entire SSN on the face of the check. The last 4 numbers should suffice if you decide to put any part of the number at all. Use checks that cannot be easily altered or washed and reused by thieves.
- Tax Preparers – Be selective about who works on your taxes. Check out companies with the Better Business Bureau, especially if they are new or seasonal offices. Ask questions of the managers. How will your information be stored? What type of computer security do they use? Has the person who will be working on your taxes gone through a thorough background screening? Do you see other people’s papers sitting around? If you feel uncomfortable or believe this is not a company that understands security issues, take your business elsewhere.
- IRS Contact – The IRS will NEVER email you for any reason. They do not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text or any social media to request personal or financial information. The IRS only contacts taxpayers via mail and after the initial contact, sometimes by telephone. If a supposed IRS agent asks information in order to send you a check, they are scamming for your identity. The IRS already knows where you live and where to send your refund. If you feel that you are a victim of tax-time identity theft, contact the IRS’s Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490, ext 245. You can also contact the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service at 877-777-4778.
Most importantly, begin taking the preventative steps listed above as the sooner you get started, the greater your peace of mind and data security.
For more anti-theft tax time tips: