the most important number for you this tax season? The amount of your
refund? The amount you owe? The number of hours spent poring over all
the other numbers?
of those are pretty important. But, none of them are as important as
your Social Security number, at least not in the larger scheme of
No one enjoys tax time, right? Not even the Internal Revenue Service or paid tax preparers. Actually, identity thieves do love tax season. Personal identifying and financial information is flying around and the stress of the season can cause some people to drop their guard – and open the door to opportunity for identity thieves.
As you’re gearing up for tax season, it’s important to keep identity protection in mind throughout the process. Take these steps to ensure your information stays safe this tax season:
Choose your tax preparer with care
From the Yellow Pages to your local discount store, tax preparers are everywhere at this time of year. It’s important to know who you’re doing business with; not only can a poorly prepared return cause problems with the IRS, a dishonest preparer can take advantage of your personal information. Warning signs a tax preparer may not be above board include:
- Asking you to sign a blank return. Always review a completed return before you sign it.
- A record of complaints with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer organization.
- Charges a percentage of your tax return as his or her fee, or refuses to quote you an exact fee up-front before preparing your return.
- Disappears after tax day. Look for a preparer with an established reputation and an actual office where you’ll still be able to find him on April 16.
Protect Your Valuable Documents
Many of the documents involved in tax preparation – from W-2s to interest statements – contain sensitive information. It’s important to take steps to protect these forms.
Throughout the month of January, don’t let mail linger in the mailbox, as tax forms will be arriving. Invest in a locking mailbox – a good identity theft protection measure at any time of year. Gather all your documents and secure them; never leave envelopes or documents in an unsecure place, like your car, desk at work or dining room table at home. And when it’s time to mail your return, don’t leave it sitting in your mailbox for the postman to pick up. Take it directly to the local post office branch and mail it from there.
Be Alert to Scams
Tax scams abound at this time of year. You may receive an email or phone call from someone claiming to represent the IRS or other federal agency. Keep in mind that when it comes to your taxes, only one federal agency is ever involved and that’s the IRS.
On its website, the IRS plainly states that it contacts taxpayers via U.S. Post – and never by email, text messages or phone calls. If you receive this type of communication from someone claiming to be with the IRS it is almost certainly a scam. Report the incident to the IRS by forwarding the suspicious communication to email@example.com.