Identity theft is a significant problem around the globe, and with numbers rising year over year, it’s vital to take preventative measures where possible. The first step to fending off attacks and monitoring any potentially fraudulent activity is to invest in the best identity theft protection. Then, you’ll have a head start on the ID fraudsters with the right package in place.
Things can start to get really messy, however, if you fall victim to tax-related identity theft. If someone manages to steal your ID and uses your Social Security number to claim your tax refund, it can cause all sorts of issues, not least of which will be your ability to pay back taxes. A disappearing tax refund isn’t just about the money, though; it’s also about the hassle factor.
So, how best to fend off those ID tax fraudsters clamoring after your tax return information? Here’s a selection of practical tips that will help you minimize the threat. However, even with the best advice and preventative measures, we’re all still susceptible to the risks.
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Social Security card
It may sound pretty obvious, but keeping your Social Security card in a safe place is paramount, and leaving it at home makes a lot of sense. This is especially so if you’re traveling, but even heading out to the local mall with your Social Security card in your wallet can give opportunistic thieves a chance to get at your details.
Identity theft invariably involves a stolen Social Security number or SSN, which both the IRS and state tax authorities use for identifying millions of Americans. Therefore, if a thief can get their hands on your SSN, then it could allow them to file a fraudulent tax return before you do. Unfortunately, that could also mean they’ll get their hands on your tax refund.
Not sharing your Social Security number with others is also similarly vital. If you’re online a lot and someone asks for it via email, make sure that you’re giving it to a dependable source. You’ll also want to make sure that you scrutinize your Social Security Administration statement to ensure that all of its details are correct. If you notice anything incorrect, you’ll need to contact the IRS as soon as possible.
You’ll also want to double down on your password security. We all have multiple password requirements these days, so a password manager is a good idea. Ultimately, you’ll want to have the best selection possible for anything related to your accounting, taxpaying, and other personal account affairs, such as online banking.
It’s easy to become complacent about security, but one wrong move could grant fraudsters and ID thieves access. No matter what computer, laptop, or mobile device you use, it’s vital to ensure you’ve got good spam and antivirus protection. Investing a little in having adequate annual protection can be money well spent if it helps prevent ID theft.
Remember also to either remove or wipe the data from any old phones, laptops, or computers you plan on unloading. The same goes for USB sticks, memory cards, and storage drives. We’ve all popped information onto external media, often when we’re searching for a quick place to store something. If this includes documents relating to your personal affairs, you’ll want to ensure everything gets erased before you get rid of the hardware or pass it on to another owner.
If you always tend to do a double-take if you spot an email that supposedly comes from the IRS or a bank you do business with, then you’re not alone. Unfortunately, phishing attacks are increasing, and fake emails posing as a tax department or financial institution are commonplace. More often than not, these will be phishing attempts aimed at getting hold of your Social Security number or bank account details along with passwords and anything else criminals can purloin. Crucially, however, the IRS will not contact you in this way but will send you a letter in the mail.
While most of us have moved over to digital communications, there's still a lot of unavoidable paperwork involved concerning our personal affairs. It's one thing to try and stay organized and keep tax and account information together, but you'll also need to be sure that you correctly dispose of anything that might no longer be needed. Therefore, it's a good idea to invest in a quality shredder. Simply screwing up unwanted paperwork into a ball and tossing it into the trash is not a good idea.
Junk mail isn’t always just an unwanted post that clutters your mailbox. If you get regular mail that wants to entice you with the latest credit card deals, then take measures to have yourself removed from mailing lists. While pre-approved credit card offers can seem like a good idea, they could also be an effective way for fraudsters to get ahold of your details. Take preventative measures by being taken off unwanted credit card solicitation databases, and be sure to shred any existing ones.
Going down the simple route of investing in a locking mailbox can help reduce the chances of fraudsters picking through your postal communications. Mail can often contain information, sometimes in dribs and drabs, but which can be used together to create a profile of you and your bigger personal picture. Reduce the ability of ID thieves to pick over your details by stopping them from looking at mail in the first place. It’s an easy fix.
Unfortunately, no matter how vigilant we are in combating ID theft, it still happens. If you think that you might be a victim of fraudsters, or you suspect there is illegal activity taking place that might involve using your Social Security number, you’ll need to contact the IRS. They have IRS Form 14049, the Identity Theft Affidavit, designed especially with this in mind.
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Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.