While your rummaging through the drawer, looking for all your receipts to get ready to file your income tax, you can bet scam artists are also hard at work figuring out ways to steal your personal information. Identity thieves are particularly active during tax season because your tax return contains all the information they need – your Social Security number, name, address, work information, investment accounts – to commit identity theft.
There are some precautions you should take to stay a step ahead of the bad guys.
• Never respond to an e-mail claiming to be from the IRS. The IRS does not send e-mails about your tax return. Ever. Be skeptical of e-mails claiming to be from a tax preparation firm also. These are very likely phishing scams, used to obtain your personal information by asking for it in order to file your return or process your refund. You should also be cautious about letters. Call the IRS if you receive a letter asking for additional information in order to process your claim. Go online at www.irs.gov and obtain the telephone number to verify the letter – do not call any number listed on the letter.
• Be careful who you work with. You’ll be providing an awful lot of personal information to your tax preparer, so be extra vigilant about verifying his or her credentials. Look for someone who’s been in the business for a long time, and verify them through the IRS.
• Keep your tax files secure. Be particularly careful with computer security when dealing with your tax files.
• Be careful with your Internet connection. Don’t do your taxes on a public computer, and don’t send tax information through an unsecured wireless connection.
• Be careful when you dispose of tax files. When you get rid of physical tax files and supporting documents, make sure you shred before you throw them out.
And remember, when you eventually dispose of your computer, whether you trash it, sell it or give it away, make sure that your tax files, as well as other personal files, are gone. Use a program that wipes the information off the hard drive, and then reinstall the operating system with the original disks that came with the computer.