Tax season is here, which means you need to take extra caution when receiving important tax documents in the mail to ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hands, identity-theft experts warn.
Year-end credit card summaries, W-2s, 1099 income tax forms and brokerage statements contain critical information about you, such as your full name, Social Security number and account numbers. In the wrong hands, that type of personal information can put you at risk for identity theft.
People don’t understand that “walkers” follow mail carriers and look through your mail for any bonanza they can find. Mail thieves know the prime time is between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Others take advantage of the dark of night and/or consumers’ tendencies of not checking mailboxes each day. When you don’t check your mail daily, you run the risk of someone else doing it for you. You also need to invest in a shredder because many of these thieves go “dumpster diving” looking for stuff you’ve thrown away.
Experts warn that some thieves even open envelopes and make copies of documents and then reseal your mail and place it back in the mailbox — so you never suspect a thing.
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Here are some suggestions from experts on how to better protect your mail:
▪ Purchase a secure, locked mailbox for your home or get a post office box to prevent others from accessing your mail. Never place outgoing mail in the mailbox and lift the little “red” flag. You are letting the bad guys know there is something there for them.
▪ Get your mail soon after it arrives and avoid leaving mail in your mailbox for long periods of time. Put a vacation stop on your mail if you are going to be out of town or have a neighbor pick up your mail.
▪ If you think your mail has been stolen, contact your creditors or bank about your bills and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to investigate. You can file a mail-theft complaint by calling 877-876-2455.
Here is another piece of information you need to know: tax-related identity theft is a top priority at the IRS. All taxpayers who filed federal returns from Florida, Georgia or the District of Columbia are eligible for an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) that will help protect them from tax-related identity theft. Now is the time to get your pin if you don’t have someone else preparing your tax return.
On another note, make sure that whomever you choose to do your return is a reliable person with integrity and knowledge. Don’t let them talk you into doing something illegal, which we have seen in the past. Don’t have them offer you money in advance, let the IRS send it directly to you. I keep seeing signs all over the streets offering “CASH in ADVANCE.” I find this somewhat questionable.
For every step we take to better protect ourselves, criminals are two steps ahead of us, ready to take our money or con you, so please take precautions when filing or preparing your tax returns. You can always go to www.irs.gov for valuable information.
Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 305-470-1670.