Friday, March 14, 2008

Prevent Identity Theft This Tax Season

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a record 77 million taxpayers had their tax returns filed electronically in 2007, a figure sure to increase in 2008. For an identity thief, tax time is prime time. Tax documents are a gold mine for hackers as they contain social security numbers, addresses, and financial information. Over 8 million Americans have their identity stolen each year and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that in 2007, the highest category of complaints was identity theft, attributing to 32% of total complaints received. Consumers reported fraud losses totaling more than $1.2 billion, almost double that of 2005.

The makers of Identity Finder -- software designed specifically to prevent identity theft -- offer tax-time tips to prevent identity theft and benefit every taxpayer.

1. Password-protect all tax returns that you print to PDF from your tax software so your SSN is secure.

2. Configure all peer-to-peer file sharing programs to disable the sharing of your personal folders so identity thieves can't download your tax return.

3. Don't email tax documents to your accountant unless they are encrypted to prevent anyone snooping on your network from gaining access to your financial information.

4. If downloading your IRS W2 forms, 1099s, and other personal tax documents from your employer, create a strong password when registering to download them so it is not easily guessed by strangers.

5. If you receive an email purporting to be from the IRS that requires personal information to process your return, rebate, or refund, do not respond to it. The IRS does not contact you via email and this is more likely a phishing attack.

6. When you postal mail your tax return to the IRS, mail it from a secured location, like the post office or an official USPS collection box, and do not let it sit in the box overnight as it could be stolen. For added security use certified mail.

7. If you receive an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming to represent the IRS, do not give personal information over the phone. Hang up and call the IRS directly.

8. Permanently shred unsecured documents from your computer that contain personal information used to prepare your tax return. Printed documents should be traditionally shredded.

9. Don't save your password in your web browser when accessing banks and other institutions that keep your personal information because it could be leaked if you ever get a virus, Trojan, or are hacked.

10. Install the latest updates to your operating system to prevent known Windows or Mac vulnerabilities from being exploited by hackers.

11. If making photocopies of your financial documents, make sure the photocopier does not store images of them in memory.


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