With tax season comes heightened alert for fraud
With income tax forms in the mail and filers busy online, fraudsters will be seizing the opportunity for identity theft, phone scams, mail theft, and phishing. They usually aim to steal your personal information and, ultimately, your tax-refund money.
Combating identity theft is a top priority, and the IRS’s “Taxes. Security. Together.” campaign is asking taxpayers to help by taking an active role in protecting their personal and financial information, both online and at home. Also, see one of my earlier blog posts for extra tips.
Go paperless, and file early
Here are some basic tips and good practices as you get ready to file your annual income taxes:
- Keep your tax forms out of your mailbox by signing up for electronic delivery where you can.
- If your forms come by mail, be alert. Don’t give thieves easy pickings; consider a locking mailbox or P.O. box and check your mail regularly.
- 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.
- A key tip from the IRS is to file your return early so that your return is processed before any potentially fraudulent one.
Beware of the IRS impostors
At tax time, criminals frequently pose as the IRS to trick victims out of money or personal information. They call you and leave voicemail messages that sound very convincing, sometimes threatening.
Never give personal information over the phone, or through the mail or online, unless you have either initiated the contact or are sure you know who is asking. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers via email, text messages, phone, or social media to request personal or financial information.
If you receive a scam email, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to the IRS site for more detailed information about how to identify and avoid scam calls.
In addition, always take care with your Social Security number. Never give it out without asking how it’s going to be used and stored. (Take a look at my article about setting up your Social Security account before thieves try to do it for you.)
Warning signs of identity theft
If you see any signs that your identity may have been stolen, don’t panic. There is plenty of available guidance from the Federal Trade Commission to help you take action. Here are five scenarios that might alert you to a problem:
- Withdrawals from your bank account or charges on payment cards that you don’t recognize.
- Expected mail failing to arrive.
- Unfamiliar accounts on your credit report.
- Bills from medical providers for services you didn’t use.
- Notification from the IRS that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
If you believe your personal information has been stolen, try to act quickly. Developing a plan can help you recover from the event. The Federal Trade Commission’s site is very clear and outlines the steps you can take with useful links.
Of course, computers and email are not bulletproof, but you can help 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. See my recent post on password managers.
With proper vigilance, we can all play a part in fighting back against the fraudsters this tax season.