Crime

During tax season, you’re at greater risk of identity theft

Carmen Gonzalez Caldwell
Carmen Gonzalez Caldwell

Tax season is approaching, which means you need to take some extra caution when receiving your important tax documents in the mail and 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 are running the risk of someone else doing it for you. You also need to invest in a shredder since many of these thieves go “dumpster diving” looking for stuff you just throw-away.

Some experts warn that some thieves are even opening envelopes and making copies of documents and then resealing your mail and placing it back in the mailbox — so you never suspect a thing.

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 out-going 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 having mail left 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 trusted neighbor pick up your mail when they pick up theirs.

▪ 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 any missing mail or mail theft. You can file a mail theft complaint by calling 1-877-876-2455.

On another note, please make sure that whoever you choose to do your tax 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 IRS send it directly to you. I keep seeing signs all over the streets offering “cash in advance.” This I find 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 carmen@citizenscrimewatch.org, or call her at 305-470-1670.

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