Tax season brings with it plenty of challenges, with lots of tasks to get done including the main thing: e-filing your return to the IRS. However, getting your tax return out of the way is one thing, while looking out for your tax refund is another. Unfortunately, fraudsters might well be looking out for it too, which is why cases of stolen identity issues in relation to tax affairs remain a big problem.
While it’s certainly worth getting yourself sorted out with an identity theft protection package, there are several practical steps you can take to safeguard your tax return too. A lot of these are largely based around common sense; while other measures make it less likely that cybercriminals can get their hands on your details in the first place.
Nobody seems to be completely safe from the possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft. If it happens and is connected to your personal tax affairs that could be a big problem, not only because of the hassle. On top of the stress associated with tax-related ID theft, you may well end up losing your tax refund to scammers too. So, here are a few tips that will help to keep your tax refund as safe as possible.
Top of the wants list for the cybercriminal is likely to be your Social Security number or SSN. With this small but vital bit of information fraudsters can take steps towards going after your tax refund, but they may also use if for other purposes too.
The IRS and state tax authorities have this number on file, so if criminals get hold of it this could cause serious problems down the line, not least of which could mean you losing out on your tax refund.
It might seem like an obvious piece of advice, but make sure you keep your Social Security card in a safe and secure place, and ideally try and avoid having it in your wallet or purse.
If you’ve been the victim of tax-related ID theft it can often be some time after the event before you realise. In fact, you may find that the IRS contacts you about a potentially fraudulent claim using your Social Security number, rather than the other way around.
It’s therefore prudent to make sure that you pick through all of the details in your Social Security Administration earnings statement every year, to ensure that the information is correct and tallies with the information held in your own personal tax accounts.
While there’s not really such a thing as a perfect password it’s certainly worth taking your time to create a solid collection of log in info for all of your different online accounts. Try investing in a password manager package too, which can help ensure that your passwords are as good as possible.
Having one of these also makes light work of multiple password accounts, and with all of us having numerous online locations to take care of, such as our tax affairs, personal banking and so on, the usefulness of a password manager should not be underestimated.
Deleting old data
If you’re getting tired of your old PC or smartphone and figure it’s time for an update then make sure you spend just as much time getting rid of any personal information that’s on the outgoing hardware. Even if you’ve got a computer that’s so old you don’t think it’ll be any use to anyone then it still needs to be disposed of properly.
It might seem tedious wiping disks and system software but this is a worthwhile task. Even if you prefer to smash old hard disks into lots of pieces the main thing is to ensure there’s nothing on offer that a cybercriminal can get hold of.
The same goes for conventional paper documents because simply screwing up old tax paperwork, bank statements and other material relating to your personal finances also needs to be disposed of properly. The best idea is to get yourself a decent document shredder.
Watch out for some of the cheaper models that don’t shred quite as efficiently as you might hope for. You need to ensure that any paperwork with things like bank account numbers and Social Security digits can be finely shredded, so that there’s nothing a cybercriminal could possible piece back together.
If you’re not very organised, hate doing your own accounts or simply prefer to hire the services of a tax professional then make sure they’re legitimate and have a proven track record. It’s no good signing up for a friend of a friend’s self-taught accountant if they’re not entirely sure what they’re doing.
You’re best off getting help from a certified and fully qualified expert and ask to see any documentation too if you’re not familiar with them, or they don’t come recommended by family, friends or fellow work colleagues. Don’t just give someone the benefit of the doubt, especially when it comes to sharing things like your Social Security number or other sensitive personal information.
Try getting rid of, or at least reducing all of the junk you have to deal with. This might come in the shape of regular mail, including those endless credit card offers. Or, you might get a relentless barrage of emails with offers for the same kind of thing. For email it’s often simply a case of unsubscribing from accounts you’re no longer interested in.
As for old-school post then try opting out of direct mailing campaigns by heading along to DMAchoice.org, which not only gives you lots of tips on how to limit the amount of unwanted mail you get, but also offers advice on what to look out for in terms of potential threats. If you want less mail, real or virtual, then this can be a great place to start.
Beating tax refund theft
If you’ve got all of your paperwork to hand then you may as well send the IRS your tax information, rather than leaving it to a later date and risking the chance of hackers getting hold of your Social Security number and other personal information.
Remember also that the IRS will not send you emails or call asking you to share personal tax information, so be sure not to hand over details like your Social Security number or anything else of a personal nature in this way.
Thankfully, help is at hand if you do suspect tax-related fraud has been happening in relation to your own affairs. Get in touch with the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit by calling 800-908-4490 and explain your issue. They have teams of experts who can help get to the bottom of the problem, so the sooner you get in touch with them the better.