5 tips to help protect your identity during tax season
Last updated: January 1
The last thing you likely want to worry about during tax season is having your identity stolen. But, it may be a prime opportunity for identity thieves. This is because many tax forms (such as a W-2) contain personal information — from your Social Security number to financial account information. Identity thieves can use this information to steal your identity and commit tax identity theft or make fraudulent purchases or accounts in your name.
Follow these steps to help protect your information during tax season:
1. Be familiar with how the IRS contacts you
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), impersonation schemes are common during tax season. This is when thieves claiming to represent the IRS send emails, make phone calls or send traditional mail in an attempt to steal people's sensitive personal information. However, the IRS does not contact taxpayers through digital channels like email or social media. So, if you're the recipient of any electronic message regarding taxes, know that it's likely fraudulent.
On the other hand, if you suspect a piece of mail you've received is a scam, you can visit IRS.gov for more information on how to determine whether it is authentic.
2. Keep an eye on your mailbox
It's a good idea to keep a close watch on your mailbox because of the number of tax-related forms you may have delivered by mail. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says not receiving bills or other mail you're expecting could be a warning sign that an identity thief is stealing your documents. You may want to consider requesting electronic forms, if your employer or financial institutions offers them.
3. Get crafty with passwords
Another way to help protect your information is by creating strong passwords (especially on the website you may use to file your tax return). To make it harder for identity thieves to break into your accounts, the IRS recommends using long-phrase passwords that incorporate a series of numbers and special characters.
4. Use a secure internet connection
If you're someone who files taxes electronically, the FTC recommends that you use a secure internet connection when doing so. In fact, it's a good idea to use a secure Wi-Fi connection when accessing any financial accounts or tax-related documents. This is because public Wi-Fi may not be secure, says the FTC, which means other people accessing the network may be able to see what you're working on (including personal or financial information you enter into websites).
5. Know your tax preparer
Identity thieves may target unsuspecting customers during tax time by posing as a tax preparer. It's a good idea to research tax preparers or accountants ahead of time to make sure they're legitimate and ethical, says the FTC. Consumers can check someone's qualifications and credentials through the IRS tax preparer directory.
Following these steps may help minimize your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft during tax time. You may also want to consider purchasing an identity theft protection plan, which can help alert you to potential identity theft problems throughout the year.