July 27, 2010Tip of the Week: March 27th, 2010
Tax Time Identity TheftPrevention Tips
By John Sileo
This past week, I have beenhelping a gentleman recover from the theft of all of his taxrecords. Before it is all over, this gentleman will have spendhundreds of hours and thousands of dollars simply preventing anyfurther fraudulent use of his identity. That doesn't account for anydamages already done to his finances, criminal record, medical recordsor social security benefits. There is very little that is more damagingand dangerous to your identity than losing your tax records.
After all, tax records generally contain the most sensitive personallyidentifying information that you own, including Social Security Numbers(for you, your spouse and maybe even your kids), names, addresses,employers, net worth, etc. Because of this high concentration ofsensitive data, tax time is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for identitythieves. Here are some of the dishes on which they greedily feed:
TopTips for Tax Time Identity Theft Protection: Safe Preparation.Your greatest risk of identity theft during tax season comes from yourtax preparer (if you use one) either because they are dishonest (lesslikely) or because they are careless with your sensitive documents(more likely). Just walk into a tax-preparers office on April 1 and askyourself how easy it would be to walk off with a few client folderscontaining mounds of profitable identity. The devil is in thedisorganization.
- Tax documents exposed onyour desk (home and work)
- Private information thatsits unprotected in your tax-preparer's office
- Improperly mailed, emailedand digitally transmitted or filed records
- Photocopiers with harddrives that store a digital copy of your tax forms
- Copies of sensitivedocuments that get thrown out without being shredded
- Improperly stored and lockeddocuments once your return is filed
- Tax-time scams that takeadvantage of our propensity to do whatever the IRS says (even if it'snot really the IRS asking)
SecureComputers. Last year, more than 80 million Americans filed theirtax returns electronically. To prevent electronic identity theft, youmust take the necessary steps to protect your computer, network andwireless connection. Additionally, your tax preparer should be workingonly on a secured computer, network and internet connection. Hire aprofessional to implement the following security measures:
- Choose your preparer wisely.How well do you know the person and company preparing your taxes? Didthey come personally recommended, or could they be earning cash on theside by selling your personal information. Do they have an establishedrecord and are they recommended by the Better Business Bureau?
- Asking professional taxpreparers these questions sends them a message that you are watching!Identity thieves tend to stay away from people they know are activelymonitoring for fraud. Remember, losing your identity inside of theiraccounting or bookkeeping business poses a tremendous legal liabilityto their livelihood.
Private information should betransmitted by phone using your cell or land line (don't use cordlessphones). In addition, never email your private information to anyoneunless you are totally confident that you are using encrypted email.This is a rarity, so don't assume you have it. In a pinch, you canemail password protected PDF documents, though these are relativelyeasy to hack. Stop Falling for IRSScams. We have a heightened response mechanism during taxseason; we don't want to raise any red flags with the IRS, so we tendto give our personal information without much thought. We are primed tobe socially engineered. Here's how to combat the problem:
- Strong alpha-numericpasswords that keep strangers out of your system
- Anti-virus and anti-spywaresoftware configured with automatic updates
- Encrypted hard drives orfolders (especially for your tax preparer)
- Automatic operating systemupdates and security patches
- An encrypted wirelessnetwork protection
- A firewall between yourcomputer and the internet
- Remove all file-sharingprograms from your computer (limewire, napster, etc.)
MailSafely. A good deal of identity theft takes place while taxdocuments or supporting material are being sent through the mail. Ifyou are sending your tax return through the mail, follow these steps:
- Make your default answer,"No". When someone asks for your Social Security Number or otheridentifying information, refuse until you are completely comfortablethat they are legitimate. Verify their credentials by calling them backon a published number for the IRS.
- If someone promises you (byphone, fax, mail, or in person) to drastically reduce your tax bill orspeed up your tax return, don't believe them until you have done yourhomework (call the IRS directly if you have to). These schemes flourishwhen the government issues economic stimulus checks and IRS refunds.
- If anyone asks you forinformation in order to send you your check, they are scamming for youridentity. The IRS already knows where you live (and where to send yourrebate)! By the way, the IRS will NEVER email you for any reason (e.g.,promising a refund, requesting information, threatening you).
- To learn more about IRSscams, visit the only legitimate IRS website, which is www.irs.gov. Ifyou are hit by an IRS scam, contact the IRS's Taxpayer Advocate Serviceat www.irs.gov/advocate.
Shredand Store Safely. Any copies of tax documents that you no longerneed can be shredded using a confetti shredder. Store all tax records,documents and related materials in a secure fire safe. I recommendspending the extra money to have your safe bolted into your home sothat a thief can't walk away with your entire identity portfolio. Makesure that your tax provider appropriately destroys and locks up anylingering pieces of your identity as well. Tax returns provide more ofyour private information in a single place than almost any otherdocument in our lives. Don't waste your tax refund recovering from thiscrime.
- Walk the envelope inside ofthe post office and hand it to an employee. Too much mail is stolen outof the blue USPS mailboxes and driveway mailboxes that we use foreverything else to make them safe.
- Send your return bycertified mail so that you know it has arrived safely. This sends amessage to each mail carrier that they had better provide extraprotection to the document they are carrying.
- Consider filingelectronically so that you take mail out of the equation. Make surethat you have a well-protected computer (discussed above).
About the author: John Sileobecame America's leading Identity Theft Speaker amp;Expert after he lost his business and more than $300,000 toidentity theft and data breach. His clients include the Department ofDefense, Pfizer and the FDIC. To further bulletproof yourself and yourbusiness, visit John's blog at Sileo.com. To book John atyour next event, visit www.ThinkLikeaSpy.com. Permissiongranted foruse onDrLaura.com
Posted by Staff at 7:22 PM