Since tax season is right around the corner, you are probably thinking about how much of a refund you’re going to get. Maybe your imagining all of the things you’ll do with your refund — like redo your bathroom or plan your next vacation.
Instead, you should be thinking about how to protect your identity. Tax-related identity theft is a big deal and it can cause someone else to get the refund that is owed to you.
The Internal Revenue Service says that it’s got an increase of reports this year of people attempting to steal tax-related information. Some scammers try to steal W2 information from employers. Other scams involve phishing emails that attempt to steal identify information.
Always keep in mind the IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by telephone, email or text messages. The agency always sends letters via U.S. mail. Here are some other ways that scammers might try to steal your tax information and tips to help protect yourself against these thieves.
Protect Your Social Security Card
Tax-related identity theft usually involves stolen Social Security numbers. Thieves file tax returns using someone else’s number. You might not be aware that someone has used your number until after you file and discover that a return has already been filed using your social security number. This can result in a big headache for you as you’ll then have to prove your identity to file a real return. Follow these tips to keep your Social Security number away from thieves:
Give out your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. If there’s an option to refuse to provide it, then do so. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Instead, keep it in a locked safe.
Protect Your Personal Data While Online
It is important to protect your tax and financial information while online. Don’t just hand out information to anyone. Make sure that you use anti-spyware, firewall and a strong anti-virus program while on the internet. Choose secure, unique passwords for each site that you use. Avoid the temptation to use the same password for multiple sites. This is often how information gets stolen. If you recycle an old computer, make sure that you destroy the hard drive first. This will help ensure that your personal information isn’t accessible to others.
Don’t Fall Victim To A Phishing Scam
A phishing scam typically involves a fraudulent email or even a social media message that appears to come from a legitimate source such as your internet service provider, the IRS or your bank. These messages will usually direct you to a malicious website that looks just like a legitimate site. The website will then steal your information by getting you to divulge private information such as a password to your bank or your social security number.
To avoid becoming the victim of a phishing scam, never click on unknown links within an email or social media message. If you get an email from a company that you do business with, such as from your bank, don’t click on any links in the email. Instead, if you are asked to divulge personal information, go directly to the company’s website or, better yet, call the business directly. You’ll often discover that the company did not send the email.
Use two-factor authentication. Some sites, such as PayPal, offer two-factor authentication. This requires you to enter two pieces of information to log onto the site. This is a safer way of conducting business. If this feature is offered, take advantage of it.
If you have questions, call the IRS directly. If you are ever emailed or telephoned about IRS business, it is likely a scam. The IRS will always send you a letter via the United States Postal Service.
Shred Documents That Contain Personal Information
Many thieves gain access to your personal information the old-fashioned way — by simply stealing it from your garbage can. Therefore, shred old bank statements, pre-approved credit card offers, medical bills, credit card statements and anything else that has your social security number.
Following the above tips will help you safeguard your personal information, and avoid becoming the victim to a tax-related scam. This will help ensure that your refund ends up in your hands rather than in the hands of a thief.