It’s tax season, which unfortunately means scammers are waiting to try to steal lumps of money from unsuspecting victims. The best way to protect yourself from these scams is to be knowledgable. Below are 11 tips to help you file securely and keep your sensitive information private.
- Shred any paperwork not needed for tax preparation.What to Shred: Checks from a credit card company offering low annual percentage rates for balance transfers and other pre-approved credit offers should be shredded upon receipt if you don’t plan to use them. Once reconciled with corresponding accounts, ATM receipts, canceled checks, and pay stubs can all be shredded.What to Keep: Hang on to monthly financial, brokerage account, and credit card statements. Compare the current statement to the previous statement. Verify that there were no mistakes or differences between last month’s ending balance and this month’s starting balance. Once you’ve reviewed the statements and addressed any inaccuracies, you can shred them when the year-end statement arrives. Certain papers should be kept for life, including divorce and estate documents and annual retirement plan forms. Per IRS recommendation, keep filed tax returns that don’t require additional payments for three years.
- Go Digital. The best way to minimize year-end paperwork is to minimize paperwork in general. Whenever possible, opt out of credit card offers, request that financials not send blank checks if you don’t plan to use them, and choose to receive forms digitally. Sign up for Online Banking and opt to get digital alerts when bills have arrived and payments are due.
- Tax returns can also be filed digitally on secure servers, and copies of the completed forms downloaded directly to a personal computer. Users can opt to have their Social Security number partially stricken from the download for additional security. Be wary of a slow-running computer or out-of-place pop-ups when filing taxes online.
- Be suspicious of any phone calls or emails claiming to be from the IRS, even with the appropriate logos. According to the IRS website: “The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.”
- Don’t put your return in your office mailbox or in an outgoing mail bin at work. When filing taxes by paper, take them directly to the post office and put them right into a postal worker’s hands. Tax returns are usually pretty obvious, and can easily be snatched.
- Don’t share your secrets. Keep your Social Security number and financial account information to yourself if you’re contacted online or over the phone—neither your financial nor the IRS will contact you requesting your personal information.
- Beware of phishing emails. Phishing occurs when criminals use fake emails and websites of trusted organizations to coerce consumers into sharing personal information. During tax season, fraudsters pose as the IRS. Don’t be fooled—the IRS will never initiate taxpayer contact via unsolicited email to request personal or financial data.
- Keep an eye out for missing mail. Fraudsters look for monthly credit card statements, W-2s, tax refunds and other mail containing your financial information. If you don’t receive your W-2s, and your employer indicates they’ve been mailed, or it looks like it has been previously opened upon delivery, contact the IRS immediately.
- Protect your computer. Make sure the virus protection software on your computer is active and up-to-date, especially if you plan to file your taxes online.
- Use e-services to protect yourself. Monitor your financial accounts regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for text or email alerts with Online Banking or Ctrl for certain transactions, such as online purchases or transactions of more than $500.
- Report any suspected fraud to your financial immediately. If the IRS denies your tax return because one has previously been filed under your name, alert the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit.
Taxpayers who suspect they’ve been victims of identity fraud should call the IRS Identity Theft department at 800-908-4490 with a copy of a police report, the completed IRS affidavit Form 14039 and state-issued identification. You’ll find more information in the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft (http://www.irs.gov/uac/Taxpayer-Guide-to-Identity-Theft) on the IRS website.