Simple ways to avoid fraud during tax season
H&R Block’s recent sound bite — “This isn’t tax season, this is refund season” — could easily be modified by somebody in my line of work to: “This isn’t tax season, this is fraud season.”
Tax forms are in the mail, and that opens the door — or the mailbox — each year to phone scams, mail theft, phishing, identity theft — you name it. You have to wonder who is more active this time of year — CPAs or fraudsters?
While death and taxes may be inevitable, fraud is not. There are steps you can take to help shield yourself from tax scammers.
Pay attention to your mailbox
Knowing tax forms are in the mail, your first step may be this: Be alert. Don’t let your mail pile up in your mailbox. If you’re going away for a few days, have someone collect your mail or put a hold on deliveries. Tax forms with your personal information on them are easy pickings when sticking out of your mailbox.
Other steps that may help thwart mail theft include using a locking mailbox or using a P.O. Box. When possible, opt for electronic delivery of your tax documents.
Similarly, business owners can help protect their employees and others by distributing printed tax forms with paychecks or at work locations. Alternatively they can deliver W-2 and 1099 forms electronically.
Other precautions that can help
Of course, our computers and email are not bulletproof. But there are steps you can take, if you haven’t already, to help protect yourself in this arena, too:
1) Protect your personal computers by using firewalls, anti-spam, and anti-virus software; make sure to routinely install updated software and security patches; and use complex passwords that you change from time to time for Internet accounts.
2) Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or the Internet, unless you have either initiated the contact or are sure you know who is asking.
3) Be aware that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers via email to request personal or financial information. Nor does the IRS use text messages or social media channels to request personal information.
4) Check your credit report annually. If you find credit cards or other accounts that you don’t recognize, you may be a victim of identity theft.
5) Check your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually to help ensure someone else is not using your Social Security Number.
With proper vigilance, you can help avoid an experience of “fraud season.”