identity theft IRS taxes

With tax season ramping up, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of identity theft. There is a very real threat of identity theft any time of the year, but you want to be especially careful during tax time, since fraudsters can steal your identity and then claim tax refunds in your name.

While there is no way to completely prevent identity theft (sometimes it happens as a result of others’ security breaches, as with the recent Target debacle), you can protect yourself and reduce the chances that you will be a victim. Here are 6 tips for helping to keep your identity safe:

1. Don’t Carry Around Sensitive Personal Information

Don’t keep your Social Security card in your purse or wallet, and don’t keep bank account information on your person. This type of documentation makes it all too easy for a fraudster to steal your identity and claim what’s yours. While you may have to carry this information at times to show a new employer, don’t make it a habit.

2. Keep Your Mail Secure

Shred credit card offers you won’t apply for, and other pieces of marketing mail with your name and address and other information. Shred bank statements before throwing them out. Also, get your mail quickly so that thieves don’t have time to take it out of your mailbox. Mail bills from the post office or from a locked mail collection box.
If you are leaving town for a period of time, place a hold on your mail. It will be collected at the post office and you can pick it up when you return.

3. Find Out How Others Secure Your Information

While you can’t stop a massive hack like those we’ve seen in recent years, you can still check to see that others are keeping your information safe. Your accountant should have a data privacy and security policy, as should your health care provider. Find out about the measures being taken. If there aren’t security measures, you might want to get your services from elsewhere.

4. Don’t Open Email from the IRS

The IRS won’t contact you about tax issues via email or text message. When you receive these types of requests, it’s almost always phishing. Don’t respond; instead, report it to the IRS identity protection unit, which is 800.908.4490.

5. Choose Strong Passwords

Pick strong passwords that contain a mix of letters and numbers, as well as upper and lower case letters. Choose different passwords for different web sites so that all of your accounts aren’t compromised if identity thieves access one account. Good passwords can be surprisingly effective in protecting your identity.

6. File Your Taxes Early

One of the ways identity thieves claim your tax refund is by filing early. You can head them off if you are organized and file your return as quickly as possible after the IRS begins accepting returns. There really isn’t a reason to put off filing, so it makes sense to file early and perhaps frustrate the efforts of an unscrupulous fraudster.