You may be resigned to giving the government your money this tax season, but watch out for fraudsters looking for a piece of the action. Your tax forms contain sensitive information, including your Social Security Number, which can be the key piece of information sought by identity thieves.
This tax season offers consumers a number of methods for completing their returns. Taxpayers have a choice of filing by mail or electronically. Consumers may use personal software, professional services, or old-fashioned pen and paper. Either way you can bet there is a fraudster ready with a scam. The following tips can help protect your privacy:
- More than 50% of people will file their returns over the Internet, according to the IRS. Before using your computer to transmit your return, make sure that your spyware and anti-virus definitions are up to date. Then, check your computer for viruses and spyware. Be sure that you have a firewall installed. The Federal Trade Commission offers information and resources for keeping your computer secure, available at: http://onguardonline.gov/index.html
- If you use a walk-in tax preparation service, examine the facility carefully to see how well your privacy and personal information will be protected. Can other people overhear your conversations? Are computer monitors visible to prying eyes? How will your documents be secured? Are discarded documents properly shredded?
- If filing by postal mail, send the mail from a secure location, preferably before the last scheduled pickup time. 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. See our Alert at www.privacyrights.org/ar/PostalW2.htm
- Pay attention to missing or lost W-2 or 1099 forms. These tax forms contain your Social Security Number. If you are not using a locked mailbox or P.O. Box, a missing form could be a warning that you are at risk of identity theft. If you think that you might be a victim of identity theft, see our Fact Sheet 17a, Identity Theft: What to Do if It Happens to You, available at: www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm
- When throwing out old records that are no longer needed for tax filing (after the IRS record retention period expires), be sure to shred anything containing personal info. Home shredders can be purchased in many office supply stores. Use a crosscut or confetti shredder. Strip cut shredders should be avoided, as the strips can easily be pieced together (think of it as a very simple jigsaw puzzle).
Not only should you be smart about how you file your return, you should also be aware of refund scams and other phishing scams. The IRS has warned consumers about fraudulent emails requesting personal information to process refunds. The IRS cautions taxpayers that it does not send unsolicited email asking for personal information. For more on this scam see the PRC alert available at: www.privacyrights.org/newsletter/051218.htm#3
For more information on avoiding Tax scams, see the IRS listing of its 2007 “Dirty Dozen” scams available at:
The IRS also offers specific tips for identity theft victims available at: