During the month of January, check your mailbox for “information returns” from organizations (both individuals and businesses) that have made taxable payments to you during the previous year. These information notices will arrive on IRS approved forms, but will be sent to you directly by the organization providing you with taxable income. The most well-known information return is the IRS W-2 form which reports your taxable wages.
Another common information return is the IRS Form1099 series which reports payments of interest, dividends, unemployment compensation, Social Security benefits, and income from pensions, profit sharing plans, Individual Retirement accounts, and real estate transactions. Generally, issuers of information returns must provide copies to recipients by January 31.
While these information notices are essential for preparing your taxes, they also are a treasure trove for identity thieves. A typical information return notice has your non-truncated Social Security number as well as the name of your employer, your bank, mutual fund, or stock broker. Some payers also include your account numbers on the notice, creating a gold mine for identity thieves.
Here are some suggestions to help prevent these notices from getting into the wrong hands:
- Use a mailbox that locks or consider having your mail sent to a Post Office Box.
- Try to retrieve your mail as soon as possible after it has been delivered. Never leave it in your mailbox overnight.
- If you go on vacation, have your mail held at the Post Office, or have a trusted neighbor retrieve it.
- If you have moved during the year, notify any payers of your new address. Do not rely on the Postal Service’s change of address service
- If you share a mailbox with roommates, make sure that you (not your roommates) receive all mail that is addressed to you
Here’s an additional tip for when you are ready to file your tax return. Mail it at the Post Office or at an official USPS blue mail collection box before the last collection time. Do not put such mail into a mailbox if there are no more pickups that day.
In other words, don't leave your mail in a collection box overnight. (Thieves have actually been known to steal the entire box by chaining it to a pickup truck, yanking it off its moorings, lifting it into the truck bed, and speeding off into the night.)
Never leave important outgoing mail in your mailbox or at any other unsecured location for your letter carrier to pickup. Anyone might come along and steal your mail along with your personal information.