Prevent Tax ID Theft
Tax-filing season is officially underway and as much as you want to put off facing those 1040 forms, there is one very good reason to file early in the season and not wait until the April 15th deadline: to help avoid tax-related identity theft.
According to a report from the General Accounting Office, the IRS pays out billions in refunds to identity thieves. Tax Identity theft occurs when thieves take legitimate taxpayers’ Social Security numbers and file false tax returns so they can cash in on the refund checks.
Don’t let yourself become the next victim of tax ID theft. Here are 8 tips you can follow to help protect yourself.
Tip #1: FILE EARLY!
Identity thieves often strike early in the tax season, filing tax returns before their victims. So one of the best things you can do is file as early in the tax season as you can. The sooner you file, the less likely any scammers will file in your name. In the case that someone did try to file in your name after you filed they would get a rejection. Then they would have to dispute your filing in order to file their fraudulent one. So, it is very unlikely they would contact the IRS and say your real tax filing was fraud.
Tip #2: KNOW YOUR SCORE
Reviewing your credit score on an annual basis is a great way to spot signs of any suspicious activity. You can request your FREE credit report once a year from all three major credit reporting bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. So what I recommend is stagger when you pull the reports. You can go in once every 4 months and request one of the 3 main bureaus. This way you are always checking your credit every 4 months and not just once a year.
Tip #3: KEEP YOUR SSN PRIVATE
Your SSN is the only thing criminals need to file a fake tax return in your name, which is why it is critical to protect your number. Only provide it when it is absolutely necessary, and ALWAYS ask why it is needed and how it is going to be used and stored.
Also be sure to check your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually so you can make sure all your information is correct.
Tip #4: THINK TWICE WHEN THE IRS CONTACTS YOU
Scammers routinely use the IRS name or logo to try and gain access to consumers' financial information. Be very suspicious if the IRS contacts you by phone or email. The IRS will NEVER ask for you SSN and/or credit card over the phone or email. The IRS first contact with you will ALWAYS be a letter in the mail!
If you receive a communication you’re not sure about, call the IRS directly, and be sure to report suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tip #5: USE STRONG PASSWORDS TO SECURE ALL ELECTRONIC FILES
Start by choosing a different STRONG, UNIQUE password for each of your online accounts including your online banking and tax-related accounts. A STRONG password needs to be at least 8 characters and include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Remember to change your passwords every couple of months. NEVER use the same password twice!
Need help managing all of your passwords? Here is a list of apps that will help you do just that!
Tip #6: PROTECT AGAINST COMPUTER VIRUSES AND SPAM
This is one of the easiest ways scammers can get your information. They send you a very formal looking email and they try to get you to click on a link or you stumble upon a scam website and click on a bad link. A quality antivirus can help protect you against some of these but the best protection is not to click on a bad link in the first place. Even with being very cautious, scammers are good so it’s a great idea to have an antivirus that will protect you if something does happen.
Tip #7: AVOID INSECURE NETWORKS
A computer hacker can access your computer when you are using unsecured shared networks. If they know enough about computers and can get past your firewall and password they can access your personal information on your computer. So, if you have WiFi at home make sure you have a secure password on your network and don’t make it something people would figure out. A lot of brands now come with a default password I recommend not changing it and leaving it since it is typically random works or a combination of letters and numbers. It’s just something that no one would be able to guess by knowing you.
Also NEVER use a shared WIFI network to complete tax documents! If you are traveling and need to file your taxes don’t use the hotel or restaurants free WIFI when e-filing. Instead look into getting a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or better yet, plan ahead and do them before you leave!
Tip #8: SHRED OLD BANK, TAX DOCUMENTS AND CREDIT CARD SOLICITATIONS
This is something that is important year round. You can put yourself at risk misplacing or throwing away important documents that contain your personal information. Try to either retain the important tax documents in a secure area and/or make sure you shred them before you throw them away. Also, make sure you get a quality crosscut shredder. Believe it or not fraudsters can and will dig through trash and find shredded pieces and try to put them together. So, crosscut is much more difficult to put back together than the traditional long cut shred.
What Should You Do If You’re A Victim?
If you try to file your taxes and they come back rejected due to another filing then you need to contact the IRS right away! You can check out the IRS’s guide on what steps you should take if you become a victim.
Identity theft is scary and, unfortunately, something we all need to be aware of as it can happen to anyone. The most important thing you can do is be proactive in safeguarding personal data, and react quickly if the worst should happen this tax season.