Tax time is prime time for identity theft - but there are ways to protect your good name
(Madison, Wis.) (February 18, 2015) —Tax season is in full swing and many consumers are hoping they will get a nice refund this year. But someone else is hoping to get a refund at your expense – identity thieves. Personal and financial data circulates through the mail and over the Internet at an increased rate making tax season one of the most lucrative times of the year for criminals seeking to steal Social Security numbers, addresses and bank account information.
"Remember to be extra cautious around tax time, when a significant amount of your personal information is compiled and circulated," says Bill Eberle, product research senior specialist at American Family Insurance. "Also remember that the IRS will only contact you by mail with issues regarding your tax return. Don't respond to a phone call or email claiming to come from the IRS. This is likely a phishing attempt to steal your personal information."
Here are a few ways your tax information could put you at risk of being one of the more than 9 million victims of identity theft as well as ways to help protect yourself.
Employers mail out W2 forms and banks drop year-end interest statements in the mail. These documents contain valuable information. If a tax form ends up in the wrong mailbox or stolen from someone's home, all of the information is vulnerable.
- Ensure your employer and financial institutions always have your up-to-date address on file.
- Request to download your tax forms from a secure intranet or online account rather than having it sent through the mail.
- If you don’t receive a tax document and the sender notes that it was already mailed, be on the lookout for the signs of identity theft.
- If it appears that the envelope containing a tax document has already been opened, heighten your identity theft awareness. Check your credit reports for unauthorized accounts and other activity.
- As soon as you receive a tax document, put it in a safe at home and leave it there until you’re ready to do your taxes.
A tax return gives criminals even more information than a W2. These completed documents contain personal information for both the filers and their dependents.
- If you're mailing your tax documents to your tax preparer or mailing your tax return, use certified mail.
- Don't leave a completed tax return unattended at home, in your car, or at work. Keep all of your old tax returns in a locked safe at home.
- Choose your tax preparer or accountant carefully and ask how the office plans to store and protect your private information.
- If the IRS rejects your return because it has already accepted one in your name, act quickly. You may be a victim of tax identity theft. Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
E-filing can put all of the same personal and financial information at risk as a standard tax return, but in a different way. The protective measures unique to e-filing encompass standard computer security that should be a year-round priority.
- Always keep your operating system and all of your protection software up to date. Check for updates to your firewall, virus protection and anti-spyware software before beginning your taxes.
- Use your own computer to e-file rather than a public or work one. If your tax preparer is e-filing for you, ask about the computer security measures within the office.
- Create strong passwords using letters, numbers and symbols for any software, online accounts, folders or files relating to your taxes and personal information.
- Be careful disposing of or donating an old computer that you've used to store personal information or conduct financial transactions. Even after reformatting the hard drive, your information is often still retrievable.
- If you use your smart phone for tax-related or financial transactions, be sure to password protect your apps and your overall phone. Also download software or enable your phone’s feature to remotely wipe all information from your phone if it’s lost or stolen.
American Family Insurance offers an addition to homeowners, renters and condo owners insurance called The Identity Fraud Expense Endorsement. This high-value, low-cost coverage helps protect against the high costs related to restoring your identity and good name. This endorsement covers expenses such as legal fees, loan reapplication fees, notary expenses and lost wages due to time taken from work to restore your credit.
Also included at no additional cost is Identity Theft 911©, an industry leader in identity fraud resolution. Identity Theft 911© gives you and your family 24/7 access to extensive features and services. Please contact your local American Family Insurance agent for further details.
About American Family Insurance
Madison, Wis.– based American Family Insurance is the nation's third-largest mutual property/casualty insurance company and ranks 373rd on the Fortune 500 list. The company sells American Family-brand products, including auto, homeowners, life, business and farm/ranch insurance, through its exclusive agents in 19 states. American Family affiliates (The General, Homesite and AssureStart) also provide options for consumers who want to manage their insurance matters directly over the Internet or by phone. Web: www.amfam.com; Facebook: www.facebook.com/amfam; Twitter: www.twitter.com/amfam. Google+ plus.google.com/+amfam/
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