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Keep Your Identity Secure this Tax Season – 8 Tips
Every other year, April would bring with it not only showers but the ever anticipated tax season as well. However as we enter month 4 of 2021, the effects of the pandemic continue to be a tough time for many people. With this in mind, the IRS is doing everything possible to help taxpayers navigate these unusual circumstances. Most notably, they have extended the tax deadline from April 15th, to May 17th.
As you gather up pay stubs and receipts from this past year, it’s critical to take extra precautions with how your information is handled and who has access to it. Identity theft is increasingly on the rise and during tax season, the majority of business owners and residents are managing more personal information now than any other time during the year.
Let’s take a look at some simple but very effective ways in which you can keep your identity secure, this tax season.
Choose a Tax Preparer Carefully
Taxes can be difficult and a challenging area to deal with for many, which is why accountants are used for those who prefer professional insight. Depending on whether you are filing as an individual or on behalf of a business, can determine who you file your taxes with. That said, you should be extremely diligent in choosing your accountant and confirm some key aspects first. To start, check that the accountant has the necessary credentials, and always steer clear of an accountant who guarantees you’ll receive a significant refund. While tempting to go ahead with, the likelihood of this happening legally is slim. Promises like this can indicate they are willing to fraudulently edit numbers, which is not what you want to have on your tax record.
Ensure Your Mailbox is Locked
Yes, even while we rely so heavily on technology nowadays and hackers are obtaining information online, physical mail is still produced and circulated which leaves room for thieves to go down this avenue. In 2019, roughly 1.7 million packages went missing every day. If your mailbox isn’t secure and locked, then you may be vulnerable to theft as access is simple on a mailbox with an opening flap. If you’re unable to lock your home mail-box, consider redirecting mail to a post office box where it is entirely secured.
Create Strong and Hard to Guess Passwords
Establishing proper password protection is one of the smartest lines of defence out there. Create passwords that are strong, hard to guess, and creative in characters. Choose a combination of characters that is unique to a memory or a date that no one else would know about except you. If you share your computer with anyone else such as a coworker, it is also important not to automatically save any password details. In doing so, you may be exposing this information to another user unknowingly. It is not worth the risk.
Secure Your Computer System
Sensitive information is often stored on home computers, which means you need the proper security measures in place to protect it. Always check that your firewall, antispam, antivirus, and antimalware software is all up-to-date and working the way it should be. If you’re planning on ditching old computers, always remove the hard drives and have them professionally destroyed, first. A certified document destruction service should be able to do this for you and will recycle the remaining electronic pieces afterward.
Be Aware of Phishing Scams
If this is a new term to you, essentially phishing refers to an outside attempt at gaining your personal information through an en email or website. However, know that legitimate companies will never ask for your password or information via email, and if you actually owe money to the IRS, they’ll contact you through physical mail. They will never contact you by telephone or email demanding immediate payment. If someone does call, claiming to be from the IRS and threatening you with jail time unless you pay immediately, hang up and report the attempt.
Watch Who You Provide Information To
You are not required to provide your SSN to every business that asks for it. Prior to offering any personal details to even a company that sounds authentic, ask yourself if they genuinely need the information to carry out a specific task. If it’s not a financial institution you trust and deal with for your banking services, think again. Check if their website is secure, and if they have policies in place to keep your data secure. If there are questions or you feel uneasy, simply refuse to provide the information they are requesting. It’s ok to say no.
If Possible, File Your Taxes Early
If feasible, why not gather up your taxes early and refrain from putting them off? Remember, the earlier you submit your taxes, the less time an identity thief has to put in a fraudulent return under your name. Filing early frees up time and eliminates that unnecessary stress that often comes with waiting until a deadline arrives.
Shred All Sensitive Documents
At the end of the day, if you’re not shredding your personal and financial documents before disposing of them, you are leaving yourself extremely vulnerable. If these records are tossed in the trash or recycling bin when they are no longer needed, you lose control over them and anyone can rummage through and steal those documents. Old tax documents, copied pay stubs, or notes containing passwords, can all be attractive to thieves to use to their advantage.
Consider instead, collecting these files together in a box or bin and once full, contact a professional shredding company. In doing so you can rest assured that your documents will be destroyed beyond recovery. Turn to one-time or regular on-going shredding services for peace of mind in knowing your files have been shredded with no potential of being stolen.
April 27, 2021