April 15th is rapidly approaching and as you prepare to file your 2017 taxes, let’s take a few minutes to focus on protecting your identity. Tax time is a very active time for identity thieves, especially with the recent rash of cyber breaches at companies large and small exposing consumer’s private data. The IRS reports that in 2013, more than five MILLION tax returns were filed using stolen identities! These returns resulted in $30 BILLION in refunds! Of these refunds, the IRS was able to recover more than $24 billion, but this exposes just how prevalent identity theft is in our lives. So how do you safeguard your identity when filing your taxes?
- File early! Okay, so this is not great advice for this year, but remember for next year. The earlier you file your legitimate tax return, the harder it is for an identity thief to file on your behalf!
- E-file safely. If you are filing your taxes online, be sure to do so from a secure network such as your home or office. NEVER file from a public Wi-Fi network such as at a coffee shop. Believe it that identity thieves will camp out and use their tricks of the trade to steal your information.
- Stay up-to-date. Make sure you are keeping your computers updated with the latest security patches and operating system updates. At the very least turn on automatic notifications for system updates/patches and then actually install them! While thieves are constantly working to exploit weaknesses in software, the companies are constantly trying to patch up those weaknesses to protect you; but that protection doesn’t work if you forget to update.
- Lock down your internet. Before filing from home, check the security settings on your home network/wi-fi. Internet service providers are regularly updating security settings and it’s important that check if higher security levels are available and then set them up! You never want to have an open network/wi-fi system in your home. Not only could people sit outside and use your wi-fi, but this gives hackers an open door to your network and thus access to ALL of your data.
- Watch the mail. If you receive any tax documents that look like they have been tampered with or you are STILL waiting for a form that supposedly was sent out, contact the IRS immediately.
- Be careful where you mail. For many, filing the old fashion way is still the preferred method. If you are mailing your returns it is recommended that you drop it in a secure mailbox, preferably one inside the post office; as identity thieves have been known to break into stand-alone mailboxes. NEVER leave your tax returns in your own mailbox for your postal carrier to pick up, home mailboxes are a favorite target for criminals.
- Check your coverage. Homeowners and renters insurance policies have optional coverage for identity theft, online fraud, ransomware, etc. If you are unsure if it’s included in your policy, give us a call and we can review your policy.