According to top industry specialists, almost everyone's personal information has ALREADY been stolen in one form or another. And it is just a matter of time of when it will happen again. How can you take advantage of all that technology offers with regard to your taxes and finances AND protect yourself at the same time? Following are some simple, yet critical, steps you can take to better protect your personal information and financial security.
It bears repeating that passwords are a critical first step. Make them strong, long, and change them often. Don't use whole words, don't reuse the same password on different sites, and don't keep the same password month after month. There are some excellent password apps out there; it may be worth it for you to invest in one.
Even legitimate companies that you entrust with your personal data can fall victim to identity thieves and place you at risk. Use caution when you enter your personal data online and be sure to use only secure websites. Make it a practice to always type in the web address of your bank, credit card, and other financial relationship companies to ensure you don't follow a bad link or end up on a lookalike website.
Though you know to be vigilant when you receive a call or email regarding any of your financial or personal data, did you know that identity thieves sometimes call or email you when they already have some of your information. They state that they simply want to "verify" or update the information they have or to correct an error they made. In reality, they are phishing for information, and are hoping you will provide it or follow a link in an email, which will give them access to your personal information. Remember, government agencies and most financial institutions will not initiate collections or information gathering with a phone call or an email.
If someone does call you and request personal information, first, get all the information you can from them, their name, a callback number from the caller or caller ID, and the name of the government department or the organization supposedly calling you. Then - HANG UP! Find the public number listed for that department or organization (not the one you were just given) and call them to confirm that they were in fact calling you. If you have been contacted by email, do NOT click on any links. Clicking on the link can activate a virus on your computer that goes through your computer files and activities and collects your personal information.
The IRS takes identity theft very seriously; on January 26, 2015 they issued a filing season alert warning taxpayers to watch out for identity theft at tax time. One of the best ways to protect your information with regard to the IRS is to file electronically and as early during tax season as possible. Once a return is filed with a SSN, another return cannot be filed using that same SSN.
Identity theft is everywhere and new scams pop up every day. If you feel that you are a victim of an identity theft scam, file a complaint at www.ftc.gov. Take steps to protect yourself now, because prevention is easier than trying to get your information back and corrected. If your plan is "it will not happen to me," keep in mind that you may already not be you.