Tax season — two words once celebrated only by the Internal Revenue Services.
But now in the electronic-filing age, the words are music to the ears of the growing number of nameless crooks — identity thieves.
The work you put in this time of year compiling financial records presents an open door for crooks to steal your personal information. From W-2s to pay stubs and investment information, you’re leaving a paper or electric trail that’s more visible than any other time of the year.
Here are tips to help keep your information safe:
Purchase a document shredder — This should be your first move. Destroy unneeded documents that contain valuable insight for a thief with a shredder. Opt for a shredder with cross-cutting capabilities for a more thorough job.
Check your mailbox — Check your mailbox daily. If you are leaving your home for an extended period, have your post office hold your mail. Watch for all the proper forms to come in and, as a general rule, if anything is still missing by Feb. 15, call the appropriate people affiliated with each. If you suspect tampering of your mail, contact the IRS at 800-829-1040.
Storing tax documents — Keep all documents in a hidden, yet accessible place. When possible, use a fireproof safe.
Regular filing — Don’t mail from your house. Instead, use the post office or a locked mailbox. If you have to mail from your house, do not alert a potential thief by placing your mailbox flag up. Finally, avoid having any documents visible through the envelope. Use extra sheets of paper to cover up the contents if needed.
Electronic filing — Choose a software service recommended by the IRS, as indicated on www.irs.gov. Avoid filing from a shared computer, such as in a library. Ensure the computer is fully protected with an updated firewall containing anti-virus and anti-spyware programming. When using websites, ensure that each is encrypted to protect your personal information and consider changing your passwords frequently during the season.
Make it your motto to proceed with caution. Question all instances when asked for personal information and, if necessary, ask for guidance if you are unsure. Identity theft is no longer an occurrence that happens to somebody else, so take all the steps you can to minimize the chances it happens to you.
RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC