America is enduring a data breach problem. As many workers traded in the office for remote work, data security has been a focus for the public and private sectors. Between robocalls pitching low-cost health insurance, pretending to be the I.R.S., or offering “work from home” opportunities, the pandemic has seen scammers getting more creative than they’ve ever been.1
Tips to avoid Identity Theft during tax time. They would love to get their hands on your 1040 form, and they would also love to claim a phony refund using your personal information. You may realize you’ve been the victim of tax fraud if you can’t e-file your tax return because of a duplicate Social Security number or if you receive a notice from the I.R.S. that talks about owing taxes for a year you haven’t filed.2
Just make sure when you e-file that you use a secure Internet connection. There are some advantages to e-filing when it comes to protecting your information. You aren’t putting your Social Security number, address, and income information through the mail. If somehow you just can’t bring yourself to e-file, then think about sending your returns via Certified Mail. We would also suggest that you shred any rough drafts of your returns where you ran the numbers and checked your work.
The I.R.S. doesn’t use unsolicited emails to request information from taxpayers. If you get an email claiming to be from the I.R.S. asking for your personal or financial information, report it to your email provider as spam.2
Use secure Wi-Fi. Avoid the “coffee shop” effect. Do not disclose your financial information over a public Wi-Fi or broadband network. A thief can access your computer when using public wi-fi with the aid of rather unsophisticated software.
A wi-fi network at an airport, coffee shop, or hotel may be password-protected – but if the password is posted on a wall or readily disclosed it's not very secure? A favorite hacker trick is to sit idly at a coffee house, library, or airport and set up a Wi-Fi hotspot with a name similar to the legitimate one. Inevitably, people will fall for the ruse, log on, and get hacked.
Look for the “https” & the padlock icon when you visit a website. Not just http, https. When you see that added “s” at the start of the website address, you are looking at a website with active SSL encryption, and you want that. A padlock icon in the address bar confirms an active SSL connection. For really solid security when you browse, you could opt for a VPN (virtual private network) service which encrypts 100% of your browsing traffic.3
Beware, criminals continue to adapt their methods and may use sites that seem valid by using the “https” prefix. This means that you need to be very careful when clicking links you receive via email, social media, or text. If you don't recognize the sender, it's probably best to do some further checking before you click that link. Verify the information by sending a separate email or calling the supposed contact to verify the validity of the email. Any legitimate business will gladly verify their identity.
Check your credit report annually. You may have been the victim of identity theft or fraud, and not even realize it, until it shows up on your credit reports. Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the big three agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. This year, because of the increased issues with identity theft and fraud during COVID-19, these three agencies are also allowing weekly credit checks from now until April 2021. Checking your credit report weekly will not affect your ability to order your free annual credit report.4,5
Don’t talk to strangers. Broadly speaking, that is very good advice in this era of identity theft. If you get a call or email from someone you don’t recognize – it could tell you that you’ve won a prize; it could claim to be someone from the county clerk’s office, a pension fund, or a public utility – be skeptical. Financially, you could be doing yourself a great favor.
1. FTC.gov, 2021
2.IRS.gov, November 25, 2020
3. NextGov.com, June 19, 2019
4. Consumer.FTC.gov, 2021
5. AnnualCreditReport.com, 2021