Here are 10 quick tips to help you keep your tax and financial information safe.
File as early as possible: This decreases the amount of time an identity thief has to steal your identity and file a return in your name. If you can, file electronically and with direct deposit using a protected site.
Hang up if “the IRS” calls: Remember that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will never call or email you to discuss your return. The only way that the IRS communicates with taxpayers is by U.S. Postal Service mail.
If you receive a call from someone who says he or she is from the IRS, just hang up. And beware that many IRS impersonator/scammers may also show up as “IRS” on your caller ID. If you answer, they may try to bully you into paying a fake tax bill and threaten to arrest you if you don’t comply.
Know the warning signs of scams: This can include suspicious emails (often with misspellings or poor grammar!) and text messages from people you don’t know. The IRS advises not to click on any links in emails unless you check with the sender.
When you receive a suspicious email:
Don’t carry your Social Security card or number: Try to avoid regularly carrying any documents that include your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
Protect your personal and business computers: Use firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, and keep your computer updated with the security patches sent by the companies you use for software support.
It’s also a good idea to use complex passwords (including symbols, numbers, and upper and lower case letters) and quickly change the password for any email account that is compromised.
Validate charities: Scam artists may impersonate charities to get money or information from you. Be wary of bogus websites that use names similar to legitimate charities. Before providing a credit card or electronic payment to a charity, validate (via a phone call directly to them) whether the charity and its website is legitimate.
Use a shredder: “Dumpster diving” is more common than you might think. That’s why we strongly recommend that you use a crosscut shredder to dispose of sensitive documents that contain personal data, including any old tax forms.
Report suspicious email, phone call, or letter scams: Call or email the company in question using information you find separately on their site. They may ask you to forward the email to their anti-spam or spoof address.
You also can go to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Complaint Assistant site and follow their directions to report the incident.
Get a credit report and/or a credit report freeze: Federal law requires that each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion -- provide you with a free credit report every 12 months upon request. You can request yours by going to www.annualcreditreport.com
If you want to prevent any new accounts from being opened in your name without your permission, you may want to freeze your credit reports, so no one has access to them. Just remember: You’ll need to “unfreeze” them in the future (usually for a small fee) if you’re opening up a new credit card or borrowing to purchase property. So plan ahead for the extra time and money this requires.
If you’re a victim, don’t delay: If you become a victim of a tax scam, file an incident report immediately with the IRS and your local police department. The more quickly you act, the better the chances of catching the perpetrator and retrieving your money.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice.