How To Avoid Identity Theft During Tax Season
Nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft, according to a 2018 online survey by The Harris Poll, which also indicates that nearly 15 million consumers experienced identity theft in 2017.
In some cases, fraudsters use stolen Social Security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns and take the refund. Here are four tips for warding off fraudsters and keeping your information safe during tax season:
1. Make your Social Security Number your best-kept secret.
This one seems obvious, but the less you give out your SSN, the less vulnerable you’ll be. Many companies, agencies and organizations ask for your SSN to use as a unique identifier, but don’t really need that information.
If you’re asked to provide your SSN, always ask why they need it, how it will be used, how they will protect it, and what happens if you don’t provide it.
2. File quickly and securely.
It’s easy for thieves to steal tax forms out of mailboxes. If you’re mailing your documents, consider using a locking mailbox, secure P.O. box.
If you’re filing electronically, only do so over a secure, private Internet connection. Add another layer of protection by using firewalls, anti-spam and anti-virus software on your personal computers.
3. Do your homework on your tax preparer.
If you’re using a tax preparer, make sure you do research. While many ae honest, the IRS lists dishonest preparers among the top 12 tax scams to avoid. Ask your preparer for their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and look for any complaints filed against them. Learn more about what to look for in a tax preparer.
4. Don’t fall for faux-IRS calls and emails.
Criminals often impersonate IRS agents over the phone, tell people they owe money and threaten arrest and penalties if they don’t pay. They may also send fake emails or make bogus websites intended to steal personal information.
The IRS will never initiate contact by phone or email to discuss your account. Therefore, don’t provide personal information by phone or email unless you have initiated contact or are sure you know who you’re speaking to. Check out IRS resources to learn more about identifying and avoiding scam calls.
Learn more about the warning signs of identity theft.