Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. Tax time presents an even greater risk for ID theft because your personal information is everywhere. Below are tips to avoid becoming a victim this tax season.
- Watch Your Mailbox. When income tax forms start coming in the mail, a potential ID thief can easily gain access to personal information, such as your Social Security number and your income. If you don't have a locking mailbox, now is a great time to invest in one. You should also consider dropping off your tax return into a USPS collection box or taking it directly to the post office.
- Destroy Sensitive Material. Use a confetti paper shredder to ensure that your documents are properly destroyed; information can still be retrieved from documents shredded with low-end paper shredders. If you have used your computer to prepare any part of your tax return, a savvy identity thief could recover any part of this information from your hard drive, even if you deleted the file. There is software available that will perform a "secure delete" of your sensitive files to ensure that they cannot be recovered.
- Choose the Right Tax People. Find a tax preparation service that is dedicated to providing year-round financial services to its clients, and beware of companies that hire seasonal workers with minimal training. This way, you can confirm your personal information is in the hands of professionals.
- Be Careful Online. If you plan to use an online tax service, ensure the site is reputable. Type the website URL directly, and never follow an email link. Also, ensure all information is sent via a secure connection. Look for their security information; What encryptions do they use? What other measures do they take to guarantee added security?
Trained community volunteers are available throughout the country to offer free tax assistance and even file your taxes electronically. There are three government-sponsored tax assistance programs:
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program: Offers preparation assistance to taxpayers with low-to-moderate income, disabilities or limited English.
- Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program: Assists people age 60 and over with a special emphasis on the tax needs of senior citIzens.
- Armed Forces Tax Council (AFTC): Members of the armed forces and their families can have their returns prepared for free, often on-site.