We’re a month out from the deadline to file your taxes (April 15th, just in case you forgot), and if you haven’t started the process yet, you might be feeling slightly overwhelmed. There’s a lot of information to consider, and when you have that many personal details floating around online or on paper documents, it can be nerve-wracking. Tax season is also when many criminals ramp up their attempts to steal your information, for that precise reason.
Secure Your Computer
If you haven’t already, run a security scan on your machine. As in, right now. You can do it while you keep reading, we won’t go anywhere. Take a minute and get that started.
All good? All right – here’s why it’s important. There are many different types of malware and viruses that can find their way onto our computer, and these viruses open up all kinds of doors for hackers, from giving them remote access to your files to logging all of your passwords as you enter them in. Make sure your computer is clean before you begin working on your tax documents – it’ll save a lot of headaches further down the road.
You’ll also want to avoid working with any personal or confidential information on an open or public wi-fi network. Unsecured networks allow hackers to intercept information as you send it. Wait until you’re on a secure network to do any work or log into any personal accounts.
Make sure that your accounts are hard to get into for anyone who isn’t you. This can mean things like enabling two-factor authentication and changing your passwords to something hard to figure out. This will help prevent hackers from guessing their way into your personal information.
Beware Tax Season Scammers
Scammers know that many people dread a call from the IRS, which is exactly why they play on that fear. Common phone scams involve a caller who claims to be a representative of the IRS, informing you that you owe a certain amount of money and that it must be paid immediately or you’ll risk jail time or a fine. If you receive a call like this that you’re worried might be legitimate, hang up and contact the IRS independently from a trusted number to verify the claim.
A similar take on this scam is to email you (again, pretending to be from the IRS or a banking service) asking you to click on a link, download a file, provide personal information, or verify your account details. These are all ways to try and covertly gain access to your confidential data, so be skeptical.
After You’ve Mailed Your Taxes, Think Document Destruction
Once your taxes have been submitted, you’ll likely have a lot of papers floating around – copies of pay stubs, scribbled notes with a log-in password, etc. As these papers have a lot of personal details on them, they shouldn’t ever be thrown in the trash as they are. All it would take is a quick rummage, and anyone on the street could walk away with everything they need to break into your personal accounts.
Instead, make sure you utilize the services of a professional document shredding company. Not only will they have the machinery to shred your items into small enough bits to prevent reconstruction, but they’ll also securely transport the paper shreds directly to a recycling facility. There, the shreds will be chemically treated, washed, and rinsed, removing any trace of your information.
The same holds true for any tax records that you no longer need to keep. As a general rule for personal taxes, you need to hold onto records for ten years. After that point, they’re safe to discard. Document shredding is helpful here, too, since a single copy of your tax return can contain your social security number, your address, your family’s details, and your financial information.
How to Handle Tax Identity Theft
If you suspect that you’ve become a victim of tax identity theft, there are ways to address it. Contact the IRS and report the theft, and check with your state tax organization to see if your records there have been affected as well. File an official complaint with the FTC, and make an identity theft report at your local police station (remember to bring any proof of the theft that you may have with you).
Finally, you’ll want to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This can be done by contacting any one of the three major credit bureaus.
For more information on document shredding and how destruction can protect your tax documents, give us a call at (304) 488-8627 or contact us online.