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ID theft

All about how it happens and how you can keep it from happening to you.

Be Careful Of Identity Thieves At Tax Time!

Once again, tax season is upon us. The documents and emails we send and receive at this time of the year contain a wealth of information for identity thieves: your name, address, social security number (as well as those of your dependents), bank and investment account information, etc. For an identity thief, tax time is a golden opportunity.

Its vitally important that you safeguard your personal financial information and not become a victim of identity theft this tax season. There are some concrete steps you can take to keep your personal data out of the wrong hands.

Understand what the IRS requires. According to the IRS web site, you will never receive an email or telephone communication from them requesting personal information. The IRS does business through the mail. If you receive an email or phone call that purports to be from the IRS, don’t respond to it. If you do receive what you believe to be a fraudulent phone call, call the IRS assistance line at 1-800-829-1040. If you receive an email that appears to be from the IRS, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. Once you file your tax return, the IRS will not ask for additional forms or information in order to process your return.

Keep your paper documents safe. Always keep your tax paperwork in a safe, locked location. Financial documents don’t belong in a briefcase, handbag, purse or in your car. They can be lost or stolen if left unguarded for even a few minutes. Invest in a document shredder and put papers you no longer need through it. Identity thieves love it when you leave receipts, papers with credit card account and Social Security Numbers (such as health benefit payment and income reporting forms), and loan documents where they can find them, like in your trash! All it takes is a few documents with your personal information on them for a thief to open a new account in your name. Even a seven-year old receipt can often be used by a thief.

Protect your computer. If your computer is linked to the internet, make sure to have updated firewall, antivirus, and spyware software to protect you from identity theft hackers. e sure to password protect your files. Since many taxpayers file their taxes and store financial information on their computer or online, it is critically important not to let thieves steal your information electronically. Even if you do not file online, identity thieves can still get access to important information through an unprotected computer.

Watch for email scams. Tax time is an especially fruitful time for email scams. If you receive an email asking for your Social Security Number or other financial information, delete it or send it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov for investigation. In some cases, you will receive an email stating that you are being electronically audited or notifying you of a refund and asking for bank account information. Remember – the IRS does not send emails to taxpayers!

Watch your mail. Uncollected mail sitting in a mailbox is an open invitation for an identity thief. If you plan on being away from home, arrange with the postal service to have your mail held until you return (you can even do this online!). When mailing your tax documents, always take them directly to the Post Office. Don’t ever leave tax documents in an outgoing mail box at work.

Be careful when hiring a tax preparer. Its always a good idea to check out tax preparation companies before entrusting them with your personal data! Many online tax preparation companies spring up around tax time, some of them nothing more than elaborate scams. Investigate tax preparation companies with the Better Business Bureau, especially new or seasonal offices. Unfortunately, even reputable tax preparation companies can hire an identity thief. Check to see how your information will be stored, what computer security software is used, and if the person working on your taxes has undergone a thorough background screening. Trust your instincts. If you see personal papers displayed on desks or are uncomfortable or doubt the firm’s commitment to protecting your private information, go elsewhere.

Tax time can be stressful. Don't make it worse by letting your personal financial information fall into the wrong hands. Be careful, and aware of the risks. Avoid identity theft. Protect your personal data - in the real world and online.

Published Jan 10 2010, 11:37 PM by IdentityTheft
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