The information required to prepare and file taxes is substantial. On an individual return, a full name, social security number, address and phone number are typically required. Then there are supporting documents that are either included with the return or are used to prepare the return. These include W-2 Forms, 1099 Forms and any other relevant documents, such as donation receipts.
With so much personal and financial information in one location, it’s easy to see why tax information is a primary target for fraudsters and identity thieves. The following is a list of tips to help keep your tax information safe.
Be Wary of Suspicious E-Mails and Telephone Calls
It can sometimes be very easy for thieves to get your personal tax information by simply asking you for it. Many scam artists will send official looking e-mails or make threatening telephone calls asking for financial and personal information. They will claim they need this information to verify, confirm or process your taxes, or accuse you of owing a tax debt. Even if these strategies only work 1% of the time, if e-mails and telephone calls are sent out to 10,000 people, that adds up to 100 victims.
Protect Your Home’s Wi-Fi Connection
Most homes that have broadband Internet probably have a Wi-Fi Internet connection that allows several devices, such as smart phones, tablets and computers, to connect to the Internet. These residential networks should be protected to keep unauthorized users (including cheap neighbors mooching your Internet connection) off your Wi-Fi network.
Not only can an unauthorized user possibly gain access to the contents of your device, but they can also intercept the data sent wirelessly. This means names, date of births, social security numbers, etc. can be easily stolen.
Scan Your Computer for Viruses and Other Harmful Programs
Besides intercepting data sent wirelessly, personal information can also be stolen by infiltrating your computer using harmful programs, such as viruses, malware and spyware. These can keep track of your browsing history, keystrokes and any data you transmit. With so many people using online banking, tax preparation software and e-filing their tax returns, this can result in a jackpot for identity thieves.
Guard Your Social Security Number
It should go without saying, but too many people put their social security numbers at risk. They may carry their social security card in their wallet or give their social security number every time they’re asked to do so. Just because you’re asked for a social security number doesn’t mean you have to provide one. You’d be surprised how often your social security number is not needed, yet is still requested.
Get an IP PIN
The IRS’ IP PIN program provides taxpayers with a special six digit number to use on their tax returns in addition to a social security number. This provides an additional layer of protection from tax fraud. Basically, it helps prevent someone from pretending to be you when filing a fraudulent tax return.
Check Your Mail Regularly
Retrieve the mail from your mailbox as soon as you can. Identity thieves love intercepting mail by simply checking peoples’ mailboxes for financial related mail when they’re not home. If you’ll be unable to check your mail for an extended period of time, ask your local post office to hold your mail until you return.
Avoid Using Simple Passwords
When creating a password for financial and other personal online accounts, use a strong password. Mix in capitalized letters, numbers and symbols into your password to make things far more difficult for a hacker to figure out.
While the above strategies aren’t guaranteed to protect your financial information 100% of the time, they do make things a lot harder for identity thieves. If you take steps to avoid being an easy target, you can drastically reduce the chances of your tax and other personal information from falling into the wrong hands.