Tax-related identity theft remains a persistent problem—for both the government and consumers. Here are some guidelines to help keep your identity safe and your tax returns and refund checks more secure.
Protect yourself if you e-file (or are considering filing online)
Avoid online solicitations and scams.
- The IRS never communicates via unsolicited email and would never request personal information online (like your Social Security number, birth date, or checking account number).
- If you receive an email claiming to be from the IRS, do not open it or respond to it. Instead, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/report-phishing for IRS information on reporting and identifying phishing, email scams, and bogus IRS websites.
- Avoid following links in emails, downloading attachments, or responding to banner ads. They can give hackers access to personal information on your computer. Never provide personal information in response to an email, especially if it promises to save money on your taxes or get your IRS refund check faster. The only way to get a tax refund or stimulus payment, or to arrange for a direct deposit, is to file a tax return with the IRS.
- Avoid all impostor or “cloned” websites typified by grammatical errors, typos, and unprofessional appearance. Watch for odd error messages, unexpected page layouts, or other strange site behavior.
- The official IRS Web site is www.irs.gov. Any other so-called “official” IRS site is a fake.
Know your tax preparer.
- Beware of impostor e-file sites. They are rapidly increasing, appear to be legitimate, and can cause serious complications. Be sure to go directly to your tax preparer’s website.
- Work only with reputable companies you’ve thoroughly researched and trust completely.
Protect your computer.
- Do not store tax information on your computer. Keep sensitive information on a password-protected external drive or disk and store it in a secured location such as a safe deposit box or an immobile locked safe. If you must store it on your computer, be sure to use a reliable encryption program.
- Avoid disposing of or donating computers, printers, or fax machines that contain your past tax information. Or be sure to completely destroy the unit and its back-up memory to prevent thieves from recovering information.
- Use strong user names and passwords whenever conducting financial business online.
- Keep hackers from stealing your information. Be sure to install up-to-date firewall and virus protection software, set wireless network to “no broadcast,” and log out of your network and power down your computer when not in use
Protect yourself if you are a paper filer (mail your return)
Carefully choose your tax preparer.
- Many fraud rings front as tax preparation companies that may steal personal information, redirect your return, or offer to fraudulently review your returns for inaccuracies.
- Research your preparer with the Better Business Bureau and IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to verify the status of their license. (Email the IRS at email@example.com, and be sure to include the full name of the individual or company along with their address.)
- Select a reliable and reputable preparer that will be around years later to assist with any IRS audits.
- Select a preparer that focuses on professionalism, including years of tax experience, expertise, and professional licenses, certifications, and affiliations.
- Watch for tax preparers that claim the ability to give you zero or extraordinarily low tax liability and then make lots of money by charging exorbitant fees, skimming money from your return, or diverting your refund to them.
- Be aware of telephone scams as well.
- Visit https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional for IRS tips on choosing a tax preparer.
Review your returns.
- Paid preparers are required to sign your return and complete all preparer sections requesting their ID number.
- Never sign a blank or incomplete return.
Other ways to protect yourself from tax fraud
Watch for your statement of earnings.
- Your annual Social Security Statement with its taxable earnings record will identify all income from individuals working in the United States under your Social Security Number.
- You should receive it approximately three months before your birthday. If the information is incorrect or you have other concerns, contact the IRS at once.
- Monitor your mailbox and stay on the lookout for W-2s, 1099s, and other official tax forms.
Protect your tax documents.
- Mail your returns from a U.S. Postal Services office via certified mail.
- Opt for direct deposit of tax refunds to avoid lost/stolen refund checks.
- Safely store all tax-related documents including your pay stubs, W-2s, 1099s, and federal and state tax returns in a secured location such as a safe deposit box or an immobile locked safe.
Don’t wait until the last minute to file your return.
If you are a Pekin Insurance insured and wish to proactively manage your identity, call a Pekin Insurance Agent for assistance. For news on the latest privacy and security trends and educational resources to help you better protect your identity, visit http://pekininsurance-idtheft.com/.
Pekin Insurance® has partnered with CyberScout,™ the nation’s premier provider of identity management services, to give you the most comprehensive protection available FREE OF CHARGE when you purchase a life insurance policy.