On an excitement scale ranging from paint drying to BASE jumping, filing your taxes probably lands somewhere toward the left, right around flossing your teeth. It may be a snoozer of a task, but here’s something to raise your heart rate: Tax time is rife with danger and you’ve got to be on high alert! Your Social Security number is digital candy for identity thieves and during tax season, it’s an all-out sugar binge.
Scammers really ramp it up during tax time. Identity theft gets top billing on the Federal Trade Commission’s list of consumer complaints for 2011, and has led the complaint pack for 12 consecutive years. The FTC got nearly 280,000 complaints about it last year and, of those, nearly one-quarter were tax-related. That’s up from 15.6% in 2010.
It’s no surprise that this time of year poses a greater risk for identity theft because all your information is out there. Taxpayers have to provide financial details and documentation and, in this digital age, that information can hover in cyberspace for the bad guys to snatch up.
Did you give to charity last year? Read on, vulnerable friend. According to a new study from Identity Finder, nearly a half-million taxpayers like you had their Social Security numbers exposed between 2001 and 2006. During that time period, 18% of non-profit organizations put at least one Social Security number on a document called Form 990. That’s the form tax-exempt charities and foundations use to file their tax returns, and it’s public record.
To protect yourself, stop donating to charity. Just kidding. Keep giving, just don’t hand over your Social Security number along with your money; it’s usually not a requirement on Form 990. If it’s too late for that, you can plug an organization’s Employer Identification Number into a form on Identity Finder’s website to see if your information might be at risk.
Identity thieves can strike in other ways, too, online: through your wireless connection, your inbox, or with malicious software. The head of identity theft protection company EZShield, Dale Dabbs, says you can lower your risk of tax-time hacking by taking a few precautionary steps. First, secure your wireless connection. It’s not hard, we promise. While you’re at it, password protect files on your computer that contain sensitive information, and then round out the cyber-security trifecta by installing the latest antivirus software.
You can lock down all the information on your computer, but that still doesn’t keep you totally safe. Identity thieves can use less discreet ways to get your information, like simply asking for it. They pose as the IRS, send you an e-mail with a request for information, and you dutifully reply. Don’t roll out the red carpet for tax thieves! Know this: The IRS does not send e-mails asking for personal information, so if you get one, just delete it.
If scammers do get away with your Social Security number, they may be able to file taxes as if they’re you. They could walk away with your refund and leave you stuck trying to correct the problem with the IRS. HLN Money Expert Clark Howard says the best way to stick it to ‘em is to make sure there’s no refund to steal. Lower your withholding enough that you break even with the IRS, then sit back and laugh at the would-be thieves who come up empty-handed.
Source: HLNtv.com by:Brianna Chesin 4/16/12