Protecting your identity is one of the most important things you can do to secure your financial future. Over one third of Americans
have had their identity stolen because they have handled their personal information carelessly or because a company they entrusted with their information has been compromised.
Tax returns are rich with information that makes it simple for criminals to steal your identity. From your legal name and address to your birthdate, Social Security number, and other personal data, tax returns should be carefully safeguarded to avoid becoming vulnerable to identity theft.
Identity Protection Group, based in Burnsville, Minnesota, shares the five ways in which you can protect yourself from identity theft connected to your annual tax return.
How to Know that You Have Been a Victim of Tax Identity Theft
The IRS shares several red flags that you should observe to monitor your tax information for identity theft. First, you may receive a letter from the IRS about a tax return that you did not file. You may receive a tax transcript that you did not file. You may not be able to e-file your return because the system claims you have a duplicate Social Security number. You may receive notice that your account has been either accessed or disabled when you did not attempt to access the account.
Ways to Protect Your Identity from Tax Return Irregularities
The following are methods anyone can use to secure their Social Security number and tax information from unauthorized access. Be aware that your information may still be accessed if your data is stolen from a compromised company.
1. Always Use Anti-Virus and Firewall Software
Without strong anti-virus and firewall software on your home computer, you cannot ensure that an online criminal has not accessed your sensitive financial information.
2. Use Strong Passwords
Never duplicate a password used online, especially when setting a password for a site that contains sensitive information like credit card numbers and Social Security numbers. It is best to create cryptographically strong passwords of at least eight characters, including special characters, capital letters, and numerals.
Change your passwords frequently. Do not allow a password to remain on a sensitive account for more than a few months. If you do so, this will only give criminals more time to crack it.
3. Avoid Storing Tax Passwords on Your Computer
If your computer is accessed by a bad actor online, it is best to avoid keeping your tax account password on the machine itself. You can use a safe password protection service like FastPass, or you can keep the password in a locked area of your home, like in a document safe. If you use FastPass or another password management service, make sure that you keep your security key at hand. If you lose the key, you may not be able to access your passwords again.
4. Don’t Carry Your Social Security Card Regularly
Unless you have a pressing reason to carry your Social Security card, such as completing employment paperwork for a new job, keep it in a locked document safe at home. Also, keep your Social Security card off your driver’s license or other identification that you must carry daily. If your wallet is lost or stolen, your Social Security information will make it easy for a thief to steal your identity.
5. Be Careful with Digital Security
Never click links or download attachments from an email that seems suspicious. You should familiarize yourself with the signs of a “phishing” email, a message designed to resemble an email from a company you know and trust. These emails will typically take you to a website that attempts to collect your personal information, like your Social Security number, credit card information, banking account number and routing number, or other sensitive data items that you may possess.
There are several red flags that you can watch out for when looking for phishing emails:
Spelling Mistakes or Bad GrammarThis is frequently the easiest way to tell whether you are reading a phishing email.
Demanding Urgent Action: Phishing emails frequently demand urgent action. For example, they may ask you to log into a website account to check whether you have made a fraudulent purchase.
Unfamiliar or Strange Greetings and Salutations: Any email that starts with “Dear” and your first name is likely to be suspicious. Other overly-familiar salutations should be watched out for.
Inconsistent or Incorrect Email Addresses, Domain Names, and Links: If an email looks suspicious to you because domain names and email addresses are incorrectly spelled or have strange subdomains, you can be fairly sure that you are reading a phishing email.
Suppose you encounter one of these suspicious emails. In that case, Identity Protection Group recommends that you report it to the anti-phishing email address of the legitimate company and then delete the email immediately.
What to Do If You Suspect Identity Theft Related to Your Tax Return
Be sure that you respond immediately to any letter received from the IRS. Use the telephone rather than connecting with them electronically. Keep filing and paying your tax returns, even if you can’t pay them online. Report your identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, and contact the IRS Identity Protection office at 800-908-4490.
Protecting Yourself Against Tax-Related Identity Theft
This article should provide you with a primer on protecting yourself against tax-related identity theft. As always, if you have any questions about identity theft, you should contact the Federal Trade Commission or the IRS. Working with a reputable security company like Identity Protection Group may also help you recover from one of these attacks.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the management of EconoTimes