Tax season is an identity thief's prime time. The reason? So many people are pulling out their financial documents to fill out their taxes. However, since so much information is being put out there, it is essential that individuals take care to ensure that their identities don't get stolen.
Safety When Filing Online
If you're going to be filing online this year, make sure that you are choosing a tax service that you are familiar with. The IRS provides a list of approved companies at www.irs.gov/efile, but you can be safe if you go with one of the big companies like TurboTax or H&R Block as well.
Also, you want to make sure that your computer is up-to-date with the latest updates, as well as with anti-virus and anti-spyware systems. If you have a Windows computer, you can check the update status in the lower right hand corner usually.
If you are storing important tax related documents on your computer (such as PDF forms from your financial institutions or old tax returns) make sure that you are password protecting these documents, as well as storing them on a computer that is password protected. Try to avoid using the same password for multiple instances in case one password is compromised.
When working online, ensure hat every website you are visiting is encrypted. You can tell because they have a lock icon in most browsers – either in the URL bar or on the bottom left or right.
Finally, once you've filed, make sure that you shred any remaining documents with a cross-cut shredder. I've been using the Fellowes 79Ci 100% Jam Proof Cross-Cut Shredder, and I've been extremely happy with it. It can shred up to 14 sheets at once, and it is very quiet. It also comes with a 6 gallon bin, which means that I don't have to empty it after clearing out my tax folder.
Safety When Filing by Mail
If you're going to be filing by mail, here are some different identity theft warnings to be aware of.
First, if you're receiving documents in the mail (such as your W-2, 1099s, or other sensitive documents), make sure that you are checking your mailbox daily. If you haven't received all of your documents yet, contact the IRS for assistance . You should have received the majority of your documents by February 15, and missing documents may be an indication of identity theft if the documents went through the mail.
When it comes to sending your taxes in, make sure that you actually mail them by dropping them off at the post office. Don't use outdoor mail bins, and try to avoid using your own mailbox. If you must use your mailbox, don't put the flag up – that is just a big signal to identity thieves that there is something good inside.
Once you're done filing, shred any documents you no longer need, and keep any necessary tax paperwork in a safe place, such as a fireproof safe or safe deposit box.
Readers, what other tips do you have to prevent identity theft?