Tax season brings with it plenty of challenges, with lots of tasks to get done, including the main thing: e-filing your return to the IRS. However, getting your tax return out of the way is one thing, while looking out for your tax refund is another. Unfortunately, fraudsters might be looking out for it too, which is why cases of stolen identity issues concerning tax affairs remain a big problem.
While it’s undoubtedly worth getting yourself sorted out with an identity theft protection package, there are several practical steps you can take to safeguard your tax return. Many of these are based on common sense; other measures make it less likely that cybercriminals can get their hands on your details in the first place.
Nobody seems to be completely safe from the possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft. If it happens and is connected to your personal tax affairs, that could be a big problem, not only because of the hassle. On top of the stress associated with tax-related ID theft, you may also lose your tax refund to scammers. So, here are a few tips that will help keep your tax refund as safe as possible.
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Your Social Security number or SSN is likely at the top of the cybercriminal's wants list. With this vital information, fraudsters can take steps toward going after your tax refund, but they may also use it for other purposes.
The IRS and state tax authorities have this number on file, so if criminals get hold of it, this could cause severe problems down the line, not least of which could mean you losing out on your tax refund.
It might seem like obvious advice, but make sure you keep your Social Security card safe and secure, and ideally, try to avoid having it in your wallet or purse.
If you’ve been the victim of tax-related ID theft, it can often be some time after the event before you realize it. You may find that the IRS contacts you about a potentially fraudulent claim using your Social Security number rather than the other way around.
It’s prudent to make sure that you pick through all of the details in your Social Security Administration earnings statement every year to ensure that the information is correct.
While there’s no such thing as a perfect password, it’s worth taking your time to create a solid collection of login info for all your different online accounts. Try investing in a password manager package, which can help ensure that your passwords are as good as possible. The usefulness of a password manager should not be underestimated.
Deleting old data
If you're getting tired of your old PC or smartphone and figure it's time for an update, then make sure you spend just as much time getting rid of any personal information on the outgoing hardware. Even if you've got a computer so old you don't think it'll be of any use to anyone, it still needs to be disposed of properly.
It might seem tedious to wipe disks and system software, but this task is worthwhile. Even if you prefer to smash old hard disks into lots of pieces, the main thing is to ensure there's nothing left for the cybercriminal to use.
The same goes for conventional paper documents; getting a decent document shredder is a great idea.
Watch out for the cheaper models that don't shred quite as efficiently as you might hope. You need to ensure that any paperwork with things like bank account numbers and Social Security digits can be finely shredded, so there's nothing a cybercriminal could piece back together.
If you're not very organized, hate doing your own accounts, or prefer to hire a tax professional, then make sure they're legitimate and have a proven track record. It's no good signing up for a friend of a friend's self-taught accountant if they're not entirely sure what they're doing.
You're best off getting help from a certified and fully qualified expert with a good reputation recommended by family, friends, or fellow work colleagues. Don't just give someone the benefit of the doubt, especially when it comes to sharing things like your Social Security number or other sensitive personal information.
Try getting rid of or reducing so-called junk mail that can pile up in mailboxes. These mailers might come in the shape of regular mail, including those endless credit card offers.
As for old-school posts, try opting out of direct mailing campaigns by heading to DMAchoice.org, which not only gives you tips on how to limit the amount of unwanted mail you get but also offers advice on what to look out for in terms of potential threats. If you want less real or virtual mail, this can be a great place to start.
For email, it’s often simply a case of unsubscribing from mailing lists.
Beating tax refund theft
If you've got all of your paperwork in hand, then you may as well send the IRS your tax information rather than leaving it to a later date and risking the chance of hackers getting hold of your Social Security number and other personal information.
Remember also that the IRS will not send you emails or call asking you to share personal tax information, so be sure not to hand over details like your Social Security number or anything else of a personal nature in this way.
Thankfully, help is at hand if you suspect tax-related fraud has been happening concerning your affairs. First, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit by calling 800-908-4490 and explaining your issue. They have teams of experts who can help get to the bottom of the problem, so the sooner you get in touch with them, the better.
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Bryan M. Wolfe is a staff writer at TechRadar, iMore, and wherever Future can use him. Though his passion is Apple-based products, he doesn't have a problem using Windows and Android. Bryan's a single father of a 15-year-old daughter and a puppy, Isabelle. Thanks for reading!