According to the most recent U.S. Department of Justice data, approximately 7 percent of U.S. residents age 16 or older are victims of identity theft each year. While the overall percentage of Americans affected by identity theft has held steady since 2008, identity theft related to tax information is increasing rapidly. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released statistics showing that tax-related identity fraud was the single most reported type of identity fraud it received complaints about in 2013, comprising 30 percent of all of its identity theft complaints. This has prompted the IRS to pilot programs in a handful of states to combat this issue.
In addition to your tax documents, identity thieves are always looking for easy access to the information they need to commit crimes. Here are a few simple precautions you can take to keep your personal information safe and reduce the chances that you will have to deal with the fallout from having your identity stolen:
Monitor your credit reports
It is important to get a handle on where your credit stands by requesting a credit report from one of the three credit reporting services: Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax. Once you check to make sure your current credit report is accurate, sign up for a credit monitoring service to receive updates and alerts when there are any changes in your credit report.
Guard your Social Security Number
Think of your Social Security Number (SSN) as the key with which someone can steal your identity and create havoc with your finances. As such, it should be guarded closely. For example, do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet, and make sure that your bank does not print your SSN on your personal checks.
Carry only essential documents with you
In keeping with the previous point, carry only what you need with you—such as credit cards, your birth certificate or passport, or other identification. Your identity can be compromised during your daily routine and when you travel—with gas stations often being prime targets for identity thieves who may tap into data from credit card sales, or even steal your documents left in a car if you opt to pay inside for your fuel or other items.
Make a record of your important numbers
Create and keep a list of account numbers, expiration dates, and telephone numbers for contacting your credit card companies and financial institutions. File this document away in both hard copy and electronically. This document can prove to be invaluable if your wallet is stolen and you need to quickly alert your creditors to prevent or stop an identity theft.
Take time to select strong passwords
While it is tempting to create online passwords or PIN numbers that you can easily remember and to use the same one across all of your online activity, it is much more secure to create strong passwords out of a random mix of letters and numbers and to make sure that they vary from site to site.
Don’t give strangers your personal or financial details
Identity thieves will use many different channels to get access to your sensitive personal and financial information, including by phone and email. They may call, posing as banks or government agencies asking for your SSN or bank account information. They may also send official-looking emails asking you to click a link to provide similar information (a tactic commonly known as phishing). To prevent identity theft, do not give out your personal or financial information over the phone or by email unless you initiate the request.
In addition, identity thieves are not above looking for financial and personal information in the trash—so be sure to shred your receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, and other documents containing sensitive information before throwing them away.
Given the potentially devastating consequences of identity theft, taking steps to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of this crime is critical. Be assured that our firm takes the security of your personal and financial information very seriously. If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact us.