Tax Identity Theft – 9 tips to help you avoid it
Because tax identity theft starts the same day as tax season.
Every company –employers and financial institutions alike- has a deadline this week to send out all of its tax forms to consumers. This is what it has aptly been named National Tax Identity Theft week. Save yourself hassle and headaches by following these common-sense tips.
Check for your tax forms, especially W-2s
Every employer and financial institution has until January 31 to submit your tax forms to you. If you haven’t received your tax forms by February 6, we encourage you to contact them. That’s especially important when it comes to your W-2s, as they list your wages.
Keep your tax forms (and other stuff) safe
We’ve mentioned this in another article. Not only is it important to ensure you get your tax forms. You should always keep them, and any other documents that contain personally or financially-identifying information safe. We recommend a safe or locked cabined. Documents to keep under lock include:
- Tax forms
- Your social security card
- Medical bills and reports that may include dates of birth and other identifiers
- Any bills or documents including account identifiers that would appear on a credit report
- Checkbooks and account statements.
Lock your mailbox
Literally! One of the easiest ways to steal personal and financial information is the mailbox. If your mailbox doesn’t have a lock, you’re exposed to the sticky fingers of anyone walking by. You’d be best served by doing something about it, and soon!
Choosing the way to file that’s right for you
What kind of person are you? Are you internet-savvy and feel comfortable filing on your own? What level of tax-knowledge do you have? Would you be able to answer questions off the top of your head?
If the answer to this last question is no, know that all e-Filers have a saving point so that you can come back and answer if you don’t know the answer to any question. However, if you would rather have the ability to have things explained to you, you might want to opt for a human tax preparing office.
Regardless of how you choose to file, ask around: among the people who comprise your friends and family group, there will certainly be people who e-File and people who use CPA offices or even tax preparer companies like HR Block. They will be the best source of a processor that you can rely on you and that works for you.
Whichever filing method you use, always check the credentials of the software/website/CPA firm that you plan to use. At a minimum, ensure that they have a TPIN, an IRS-issued Tax Preparer Identification Number.
After that, know that the IRS has a page that lists the legally- allowed abilities of different types of tax preparers on this page.
Using this page you can verify whether a tax preparer can legally provide you the services they claim to provide. For example, not every preparer will represent you under audit. Be aware of what you are paying for and be ready to look elsewhere if not satisfied.
Additionally, the old adage applies even to tax preparing services: if it sounds too good to be true, it is because it isn’t true. If someone makes great promises regarding refund times or amounts, beware!
If you opt to file electronically on your own, keep in mind the following:
- Always file using software/sites that are well known and reputable.
- File on sessions that you initiate by logging in on sites whose address you typed or had saved from years past. Beware of following a link you received by email.
- If you are filing and need to stop, always save and log out (this is good practice for anything, but especially so for tax returns).
Protect your software
We have said this many, many times and will keep on saying it. Protect your devices from any malicious software by ensuring that you have reputable Antivirus software that scans attachments, websites, and your devices. And be sure to set up automatic updates on your operating system and software to keep you up to date and protected.
Even if you do everything right, identity thieves may have obtained information about you from many unsuspected sources. This is why the best way to prevent it from happening is by filing your tax returns as soon as you have all your forms with you.
Please get a shredder if you don’t have one already. After you file, shred anything redundant –just remember that you have to keep records of everything that proves the information that you provided on your return-. Additionally, tax time is the best time to go through all those stacks of bills and personal stuff, and shred anything that you don’t need to keep.
One final note: while we always recommend recycling paper, know that paper recycling plants ask consumers to not recycle shredded paper. The bits are too small and fall through the holes in the sorting machines.