ID theft is a crime that keeps evolving, and experts say tax time is prime time for thieves to get personal and financial information from the unsuspecting.
Brian Lapidus with Kroll’s Fraud Solutions says ID theft is growing each day, and so is what people do with a stolen identity once they’ve got a name, and a social security number.
Lapidus says scammers know tax time is when a lot of people’s personal information is easily accessible. With it, they buy things, rent homes, open utility accounts, even commit crimes under a stolen name.
He says those who are filing by mail should not use their mailbox, because thieves know to watch for them and will take them out, steal the information, and then put them back in the mailbox to be sent in.
And he says never use an open Wi-Fi or public computer to e-file tax information. He says it’s easy for someone to use the same computer right after you and scrub your information. He says he’s also seen cases of “shoulder surfing,” which is when other people look over your shoulder and gather sensitive data as you type.
Other tips to protect yourself include:
1. Obtain a list of all authorized e-file providers www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=118449,00.html registered with the IRS.
2. Beware of phishing schemes. To avoid this annual threat, taxpayers must remember one simple fact: the IRS never contacts taxpayers by e-mail or phone to request sensitive personal information. If you suspect that you are the target of a phishing scam, file a complaint with the Anti-Phishing Working Group www.antiphishing.org/index.html and contact the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is particularly important as the IRS rolls out new electronic taxpayer resources, including the IRS2Go smartphone app, which allows the user to check the status of their tax return and receive tax tips. Similar tips are posted on the IRS’ Twitter page, as well. Keep in mind that all IRS communications are one-way. The IRS will never ask you to submit personal information through these channels.
3. Keep a record of your tax returns only as long as necessary. After all, thieves can’t steal what you don’t have. Whenever possible, safely discard any electronic records or paperwork once the need for them has expired. For paper record disposal, be sure they are shredded before they are thrown out — a crosscut shredder is best. For electronic records, ensure that anything you absolutely must keep cannot be shared through a peer-to-peer network, and never discard or sell an old computer containing sensitive information unless the hard drive has been effectively wiped (simply deleting files won’t do the trick). As to how long to keep your records, suggested guidelines are available through the IRS.