Taxes and Your Identity: How to File One and Protect the Other

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identity theft

As if filing your tax returns isn’t traumatic enough, now the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says thieves are stealing your identity, and the source of their information is your tax returns. Unfortunately, you’re not safer filing your taxes online than you are by regular mail. Electronic and paper tax returns both contain enough personal information for identity thieves to open new accounts and steal your identity—quickly and easily. You can, however, take some proactive steps to ensure that your personal information is as safe as possible.

Online Security

Before you file your tax returns online, take a look at the address bar. You want to look for an address that starts with “https.” The “s” at the end of the http indicates that you are transmitting information over a secure server. A secure server encrypts or scrambles your personal information while it is sending over the Internet. When the end-user, the IRS, receives it, though, they can view the information. Any parties between you and the IRS, however, will simply see symbols or coded information that doesn’t make sense to the naked eye and is of no use to them.

Avoid Email and File Sharing

Never email copies of your tax returns to anyone, including the IRS. Also, avoid using file sharing sites to send or share your tax returns. For example, when you are applying for a mortgage or loan and have to supply these documents, use a secure server, fax or mail them. If you receive an email from someone saying they are the IRS, this is a scam. The IRS does not initiate any contact with taxpayers via email. They use the regular mail to let you know that Uncle Sam wants to talk with you or that there is a problem with your tax standing.

Mail Securely

When you opt to submit your tax returns via snail mail, drop them in a locked mailbox. Do not put them in your personal mailbox with the flag up. This is like signaling to thieves that you have information for the taking inside of the box. Your best bet is to mail the returns from one of the official blue post office boxes from a post office location. You can also hand them to a post office worker. It’s just as secure in a post office mailbox as it is a mailbox on the street. These are locked boxes that only the post office employees have a key to open.

When you think about it, your tax returns are a hot bed of information. These documents contain your name, social security number, address and all of the personal information on your spouse and kids. If this information gets into the wrong hands, you are making identity theft easy for the thieves. Use secure online sites and locked post office boxes to add a layer of security to the tax filing process. It’ll save you making a complaint to the FTC and fighting to remove fraudulent accounts from your credit report.

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