The frenzy of tax season is something that identity thieves count on: they hope you’ll be far too busy to keep track of all the ways to secure your information before and after you file. And as we know, identity thieves love tax season. Personal identifying and financial information is flying around and the stress of the season can cause some people to drop their guard – and open the door to opportunity for the fraudsters that lie in wait.
As you gear up for tax season, it’s important to keep identity protection in mind throughout the process. Take these steps to ensure your information stays safe during and after this tax season:
When it comes to your tax preparer, be choosy!
Come the new year, there’s no shortage of brightly colored ads trumpeting the services of tax preparers on every corner. But when it comes to your own financial records, it’s absolutely critical to know who you’re doing business with. Not only can a poorly prepared filing cause problems with the IRS, a dishonest preparer can take advantage of your personal information, since you share no shortage of your financial picture with them as you file. How can you tell if an intended preparer isn’t on the level? Your tax preparer shouldn’t:
- Ask you to sign a blank return. Always review a fully completed return before you sign it.
- Have a long record of complaints with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer protection group.
- Charge a percentage of your tax return as his or her fee, or refuse to quote you an exact fee upfront before preparing your return.
- Disappear after tax day. Look for a preparer with an established reputation and an actual office where you’ll still be able to find him if problems arise with your filing.
Keep your tax documents secured as they come and go
Many of the documents involved in tax preparation – from W-2s to interest statements – contain sensitive information that shouldn’t be shared widely. It’s important to take all the necessary steps to protect these forms. If your employers don’t make your W-2s available for download or via email, make sure you’re vigilant at the mailbox.
As soon as your W-2 forms might start arriving, don’t let mail linger uncollected. Invest in a locking mailbox – a good identity theft protection measure at any time of year – to help keep your forms out of the hands of opportunistic passers-by. Gather all your documents and secure them; never leave envelopes or documents in an unsecured place, like your car, desk at work or dining room table at home. And when it’s time to mail your return, don’t leave it sitting in your mailbox for the postman to pick up. Take it directly to the local post office branch and mail it from there to ensure no one scoops it out of your mailbox while it waits for collection.
Stay on top of scammers’ latest tricks
Tax scams abound at this time of year. You might receive an email or phone call from someone claiming to represent the IRS or other federal agency. Keep in mind that when it comes to your taxes, only one federal agency is ever involved and that’s the IRS.
On its website, the IRS plainly states that it first contacts taxpayers via U.S. Mail – and never by email, text messages or phone calls. If you receive these types of communication from someone claiming to represent the IRS, it is almost certainly a scam. Remember too, that members of the IRS never call taxpayers to demand immediate payment over the phone. Additionally, the agency never calls filers about taxes owed without first sending a bill. Report the incident to the IRS by forwarding the suspicious communication to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether you’re deep in prep to file, or you’re thinking critically about how you’d make changes for the year ahead, there’s many many options to be selective with your tax prep and filing options. After you file, make sure you take time to review how well your process worked this year, and if any tweaks or changes are needed.
This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.
Published by permission from ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., an Experian company. © 2015 ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. All rights reserved.