By John Herr, CEO, EZShield
As the April 15 tax deadline rapidly approaches, Americans are surveying their finances from a high level in a way that really only happens once a year. It’s a form of spring cleaning, and also an opportunity to think about how to best organize your financial life. As we open our financial kimonos for tax preparers and the IRS, we also need to take extra care in protecting ourselves against fraud and identity theft.
While many Americans associate identity theft with online threats, they often occur offline, via stolen paper documents or mail. At tax time, even with the prevalence of online filing, reams of vital information are easily harvested from workplace desks and mailboxes. We read about a new data breach almost weekly, through which a company or government organization is hacked, leaving hundreds of thousands of individuals uncertain as to whether their personal data is now available to the highest bidder. Even so, fear isn’t the reason to take action – proactive self-interest is, starting with protecting yourself during tax season.
The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) recommends that filers take the following steps to protect themselves:
- Keep tax paperwork in a safe, locked location.
- Be selective about who works on your taxes. Investigate tax preparation companies with the Better Business Bureau, especially new or seasonal offices.
- If you receive an email asking for your Social Security Number or financial information, delete it or send it to the FTC for investigation. The IRS does not send emails stating you are being electronically audited. They also don’t contact you by email about refunds which require you to provide bank information.
- Put papers you no longer need through a cross-cut shredder.
- Make sure to have updated firewall, antivirus, and spyware software to protect your computer from invasion.
- Be sure to retrieve your mail every day. Don’t leave tax documents in an outgoing mail box at work.
Even if you take all these steps, sometimes a little extra protection is the best idea. A driver of the best-maintained vehicle derives peace of mind from roadside assurance programs, and even the most organized tax filer (or general consumer) can benefit from an identity theft and restoration service like that provided by EZShield. Such firms can minimize the risk of damage, and in EZShield’s case, can also make it right with one phone call – restoring your identity can otherwise take hundreds of hours.
Prevent, detect and restore trouble with your identity. All three are important. Go forth and file – but take appropriate measures.