Whether you owe money or are expecting a refund, preparing your own tax return or hiring a professional, tax time can be, well, taxing. The last thing you probably want to worry about is identity thieves tapping into your financial accounts, opening new lines of credit or committing other types of theft or fraud.
But according to CyberScout, tax season may be a prime opportunity for identity thieves. W-2s and other Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax forms contain a wealth of information — everything from Social Security numbers to financial account information — that can be a target for resourceful criminals.
Protecting your identity, however, doesn’t have to be difficult. Follow these simple steps from the IRS to help safeguard your personal information from hackers and identity thieves during tax season.
According to the IRS, impersonation schemes thrive during tax season. This is when thieves claiming to represent the IRS send emails, make phone calls or send traditional mail in an attempt to steal people’s Social Security numbers or other sensitive personal information. However, it’s important to remember that the IRS says it does not contact people by email or social media. So, if you’re the recipient of any electronic messages, you should know that they are fraudulent. If you suspect that a piece of mail you’ve received is part of a scam, you can visit IRS.gov for more information on how to determine whether it is authentic.
While cybercrime has become many thieves’ preferred method of obtaining personal information, it’s still important to closely monitor your home’s mailbox. Some forms are still delivered by mail and identity thieves may steal them in order to gain access to your personal information.
According to the IRS, you should not, at any time, carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. The card should be kept in a safe place, preferably in a safe deposit box or another secure location. If your Social Security card is in your wallet and your wallet is stolen, then it’s possible your personal information may fall into the hands of identity thieves who may use it to compromise your bank account and open new lines of credit.
Refunds from electronically filed tax returns are typically direct-deposited into financial accounts, which can help protect a refund check from being stolen from your mailbox. However, if you e-file, you need to know how to do so safely. One way to help protect yourself is by creating a strong user password on the website through which you file your tax return. To help ensure Internet security, incorporate a series of numbers, letters and special characters into your password.
Fraud rings have been known to front as tax preparation centers, says CyberScout. Scam artists prey on the unsuspecting customers of these centers, stealing personal information and sometimes redirecting their tax refunds. The bottom line? It’s a good idea to research your tax preparer or accountant and make sure he is legitimate and ethical.
In addition to taking steps to thwart tax-time identity thieves, you may also want to consider purchasing identity theft restoration coverage, which may alert you to potential fraud and help you repair any damage to your identity in case you do become a victim.
Originally published on February 28, 2013.