What if you do your taxes and file them on time, anticipating a healthy refund, only to receive a notice saying you've already filed -- and you didn't?
Or picture this: You get a notice from the IRS saying you owe them money or that you received wages from some employer you've never heard of.
If anything like this happens to you, you are most likely a victim of identity theft. How? Well, chances are the thief got his hands on your Social Security number, and used it to file a fake tax return. Or perhaps an illegal immigrant used your Social Security number to gain employment.
In recent months, the IRS has announced more vigorous attempts to stop tax identity theft before it starts. While they take action, however, there are things you can do to protect yourself.
First of all, never carry you Social Security card in your wallet. On the occasion that you need it as an ID, of course carry it and use it. But when you are done, store it under lock and key. You don't want the wrong person getting his hands on it.
And never give your Social Security number to anyone unless you are sure they really require it. Don't be afraid to ask if an alternative form of identification can be used instead, particularly if you are unsure how your information will be used and stored.
Make sure your shred any and all documents that contain your personal or financial information before you dispose of them, and be sure that the ones you keep filed are secured.
You should also make sure to check your credit report each year, being careful to look for fraudulent or questionable information. If you find anything that looks out of place to you, take action immediately with both the creditor and the credit bureau.
Protect your computer as well, making sure your passwords are tough and updated on a regular basis. You should also install anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall.
When it comes to requests for your personal or financial information, don't respond if you are unsure of the person asking, particularly if the request comes to you unsolicited.
Taking just these simple steps will go a long way toward protecting you -- and your information.