Identity thieves are cunning, so much so that one wonders why they don’t put their minds to legitimate endeavors.
Preparing tax returns, or the information to hand over to a specialist, can be stressful enough. Unfortunately, you now have to keep in mind another tax season practice – ID theft protection!
Here are important practices to keep in mind:
Keep it safe. Never carry your Social Security card or number in a purse or wallet. Leave it at home in a secure place or in a safe-deposit box.
Do not store tax information on your computer. Keep sensitive tax information (worksheets, W-2s, 1099s, 1040s) on a password-protected or encrypted external drive or disk, and store it in a secure location, such as a safe-deposit box or a locked safe. If you must store it on your computer, make sure the drive is encrypted. Never store tax files or any personal information on a cloud or Internet drive.
Employ strong usernames and passwords, especially when conducting financial business online. Always include numbers, upper- and lowercase characters, and symbols such as *, ! and &.
Be picky about your preparer. Carefully choose a tax preparer. Many fraud rings front as tax preparation companies that may steal personal information, redirect your return or offer to fraudulently review your returns for inaccuracies.
Snoop around. Verify the status of your preparer’s license with the Better Business Bureau and IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Email the IRS at email@example.com with the full name of the individual or company and their address to confirm they’re a legitimate operation.
Do the math. Your annual Social Security Statement will identify all income from individuals working in the United States under your SSN. Do the numbers look right? This can be a good way to spot otherwise undetected identity theft.
Stalk your mail carrier. Monitor your mailbox and stay on the lookout for W-2s, 1099s and other official tax forms. If any are late or appear to have been opened, contact the provider immediately to find out how and when they were mailed.
Splurge on the extras. If you file a return by snail mail, make sure to use certified mail from the U.S. Postal Service so you can confirm its arrival.
Go electronic. Opt for direct deposit of tax refunds to avoid lost or stolen refund checks.