Identity theft is a major problem right around the globe and, with numbers rising year-on-year, it’s vital to take preventative measures where possible. The first step to fending off attacks and monitoring any potentially fraudulent activity is to invest in the best identity theft protection. With the right package in place you’ll have a head start on the ID fraudsters.
Where things can start to get really messy, however, is if you fall victim to tax-related identity theft. If someone manages to steal your ID and uses your Social Security number to subsequently claim your tax refund then it can cause all sorts of issues, not least of which will be your ability to pay back taxes. A disappearing tax refund isn’t just about the money though; it’s also about the hassle factor.
So, how best to fend off those ID tax-fraudsters who are clamouring after your tax return information? Here’s a selection of practical tips that will help you minimize the threat, although keep in mind that even with the best advice and by taking plenty of preventative measures we’re all still susceptible to the risks.
Social Security card
It may sound pretty obvious but keeping your Social Security card in a safe place is paramount, and leaving it at home if you can makes a lot of sense. This is especially so if you’re travelling, but even heading out to the local mall with your Social Security card in your wallet can present opportunistic thieves with a chance to get at your details.
Identity theft invariably involves a stolen Social Security number or SSN, which both the IRS and state tax authorities use for identifying millions of Americans. Therefore, if a thief can get their hands on your SSN then it could allow them to file a fraudulent tax return before you do. That could also mean they’ll get their hands on your tax refund.
Not sharing your Social Security number with others is also similarly vital. If you’re online a lot and someone asks for it via an email then make sure that you’re giving it to a dependable source. You’ll also want to make sure that you scrutinize your Social Security Administration statement to ensure that all of the details listed on it are correct. If you notice anything untoward then you’ll need to contact the IRS as soon as possible.
It goes without saying that you’ll also want to double down on your password security. We all tend to have multiple password requirements these days, so a password manager is a good idea. Ultimately, you’ll want to have the best selection possible for anything related to your accounting, taxpaying and other personal account affairs such as online banking.
It’s easy to become complacent about security, but one wrong move could grant access to fraudsters and ID thieves. No matter what computer, laptop or mobile device you use it’s vital to ensure you’ve got adequate spam and antivirus protection. Investing a little on having adequate annual protection can be money well spent if it helps prevent ID theft.
Remember also to either remove or wipe the data from any old phones, laptops or computers you might be getting rid of. The same goes for things like USB sticks, memory cards and storage drives. We’ve all popped information onto external media, often when we’re searching for a quick place to store something. If this includes documents relating to your personal affairs then you’ll want to make sure it’s erased before you get rid of it, or pass it on to another owner.
If you always tend to do a double-take if you spot an email that supposedly comes from the IRS or a bank you do business with then you’re not alone. Phishing attacks are on the increase and fake emails posing as a tax department or financial institution are commonplace. More often than not, these will be phishing attempts aimed at getting hold of your Social Security number, or bank account details along with passwords and anything else criminals can purloin. Crucially, however, the IRS will not contact you in this way but will send you a letter in the mail.
While most of us have moved over to digital communications there’s still a lot of unavoidable paperwork involved in relation to our personal affairs. It’s one thing to try and stay organised, keeping tax and accounts information together but you’ll also need to be sure that you correctly dispose of anything that might not be needed anymore. It’s therefore a good idea to invest in a quality shredder. Simply screwing up unwanted paperwork into a ball and tossing it into the trash is not a good idea.
Junk mail isn’t always just unwanted post that clutters up your mailbox. If you get regular mail that wants to entice you with the latest credit card deals then take measures to have yourself removed from mailing lists. While pre-approved credit card offers can seem like a good idea they could also be an effective way of fraudsters getting hold of your personal details. Take preventative measures by being taken off unwanted credit card solicitation databases and be sure to shred any existing ones.
Even going down the simple route of investing in a locking mailbox can help reduce the chances of fraudsters picking through your postal communications. Mail can often contain information, sometimes in dribs and drabs, but which can be used together to create a profile of you and your bigger personal picture. Reduce the ability for ID thieves to pick over your details by stopping them looking at mail in the first place. It’s an easy fix.
Unfortunately, no matter how vigilant we are in combating ID theft, it does still happen. If you think that you might be a victim of fraudsters, or you suspect there is illegal activity taking place that might involve use of your Social Security number you’ll need to contact the IRS. They have IRS Form 14049, the Identity Theft Affidavit, designed specially with this in mind.