How to Protect Your Identity During Tax Season
With the arrivals of everyone’s W-2s in their mailbox, you know it must be tax time again. From now until April 15, Americans will be busy filing and hoping to score a big refund. However, for some citizens, they may find someone else has beaten them to the punch, filing a fraudulent claim in order to steal their refund. In many ways, peak tax season is also peak identity theft season as well.
It’s surprising how much damage an identity thief can do with just a few pieces of personal information on an individual. No matter how you file your taxes, either with a professional preparer or by yourself, safeguarding your information is imperative. Staying safe this tax season starts at your mailbox and ends with the proper storage or destruction of any document that may contain personal information.
You’ve Got Mail
The easiest place for an identity thief to start is at your mailbox. Because that is the method that many of us still receive our W-2s, 1099s, and other important tax documents, that can be the richest vein for them to strike. Having a locking mailbox is important, as is checking your mail daily so it doesn’t stack up.
It also helps to be aware of when documents should be arriving, and taking quick action when you don’t receive something in a timely fashion. Just receiving those documents isn’t the end of safeguarding your mail, however. You should also inspect any tax documents you receive before opening them, to ensure they have not been tampered with.
If you have concerns about receiving documents at your home address, it may be a good idea to request the documents be sent somewhere more secure.
Also be on the lookout for suspicious mail. If you receive documents in the mail that you didn’t request, or weren’t expecting, don’t take them at face value. Identity thieves also may go fishing for your personal information via requests for information disguised as letters from the IRS.
Choose a Preparer Wisely
Pop-up shops may be all the rage in our ever-evolving economy, but when it comes to tax preparation they can be bad news. That’s not to say that all temporary tax preparers should be avoided. Due to the nature of tax season, it can be a very seasonal business. However, it’s important to pick a reputable name that has a presence past April 15. It’s important not only for the accuracy and reliability of your tax filings, but there have been incidents of identity theft traced back to such tax-preparation outfits. You also should be concerned about how they store or dispose of personal information they may have obtained from you.
Issues at Filing Time
You can be vigilant about protecting your personal information and still find yourself with an issue. That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs and be ready to take quick action.
Some of the red flags to be wary of during the filing process are:
- Receiving a notice regarding changes made to your online IRS account you didn’t make.
- Not able to e-file taxes due to a duplicate social security number.
- IRS records indicating your received income from an unfamiliar employer.
Any of these or similar incidents should be reported to the IRS immediately.
The last step in keeping yourself as safe as possible during tax season is proper disposal. Keep records that need to be retained as secure as possible, and properly dispose of the rest. Consider shredding your sensitive personal information, and if you prepare your taxes and e-file, consider electronic data destruction before disposing of old PCs. We can help you keep your identity safe. Contact us today for more information about our data protection services including proper disposal of your old electronic devices.