New advancements in how we file have made the process a little less painful, but have also left the door wide open for hackers, scammers, and identity thieves.
There are a number of tips to keep in mind as you file your state and federal taxes. These suggestions are meant to protect your data when you file, but can also work to secure your refund if your information has been compromised in the past.
1. Filing early – Complete your tax return and off your to-do list as soon as you can. Not only will you sleep a little better knowing it is finished, but you stand a better chance of beating a thief to your refund. Tax return fraud has grown exponentially in the past few years, in part due to the abundance of stolen identities available for sale online, so the best way to prevent it is to get your return filed before a thief can do it for you.
2. Knowing your preparer – Whether you use a walk-in tax preparer or have an accountant who handles your returns, ask questions about who can see your data and where it ends up. Keep in mind that a number of identity theft rings that have been broken up over the years were using tax prep services as a “front” for their real business. If you let someone else handle your sensitive documents, make sure they have a solid, long-standing reputation, and make sure you ask serious questions about where your information will be stored.
3. Filing yourself – If you handle your own taxes, you still have to watch out and secure your information. How? By making sure that the return itself is safe. If you prefer paper-and-pen forms that you’ll send through the mail, do NOT mail it from your curbside home mailbox. Drop it in a blue postal service box, or even better, take it to the counter of your local post office. If you file online, make sure you’re only doing so over secured wifi—as in, not your local coffee shop’s public wifi connection—and look for the HTTPS designation at the front of the IRS’ web address.
4. Remembering that your state taxes are under attack, too – If you’ve been a victim of identity theft or tax return fraud, or if you’re just concerned that it could happen to you, don’t overlook state return fraud. We tend to think of the IRS refund as the major payout and it usually is, but the potential for fraud at the state level is just as likely. In fact, since scammers can file returns using your information in multiple states, it may be an even bigger problem than people realize. Get your state return filed as soon as you can, and be on the lookout for notifications that there’s an issue with your return in a state you’ve never even visited, let alone worked in.
5. Destroying it! – With all of the new advancements, it’s easy to overlook the good old-fashioned tools of the identity theft trade. Shred any documents or receipts that you will no longer need in connection with your tax return, and keep a close eye on your mailbox so your necessary tax forms don’t wander off. If you don’t receive your forms in a timely way, it’s possible they were stolen, so check with the sender to confirm that they had been sent.
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