What’s more heart-stopping than being told that you owe money at tax time? How about being told that you can’t file your taxes, because they have already been filed – and not by you?
Identity theft is on the rise, folks. This tax season, I’ve heard more stories from clients and CPA’s than I have ever heard before, about identity theft being discovered when an unsuspecting citizen tried to file their taxes. We need to take this crime seriously, and take preventative steps to protect ourselves.
The Federal Trade Commission has an extensive amount of information for consumers on how you can protect yourself and your information: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity
Here are a few of the highlights which I think everyone should know:
1. Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home. Make a copy of your Medicare card and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry the copy with you — unless you are going to use your card at the doctor’s office.
2. Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer. Do NOT throw them into the trash.
3. The bad guys constantly develop new ways to attack your computer, so your security software must be up-to-date to protect against the latest threats. Most security software can update automatically; set yours to do so. Also, set your operating system and web browser to update automatically. Don’t buy security software in response to unexpected pop-up messages or emails, especially messages that claim to have scanned your computer and found malware. Scammers send messages like these to try to get you to buy worthless software, or worse, to “break and enter” your computer.
4. Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected. More info on public wi-fi is here: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0014-tips-using-public-wi-fi-networks
5. Be aware of “phishing” – Basically if you’re not sure of the source, don’t touch it. Phishers are getting more and more clever, so even if it’s an email from your financial institution, if it asks you to share any personal information, don’t do it. Legit financial institutions won’t do this over email. If you’re concerned about your account, call the institution at the number on your financial statements (not a number listed in the email, which could also be fake). If an email from a friend sounds strange, ask them about it. I appreciate when people do this for me. More info on phishing: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0003-phishing
6. Passwords: love them or hate them, they certainly are a reality in our modern cyber age! The FTC lists these principles for creating strong passwords and keeping them safe:
- The longer the password, the tougher it is to crack. Use at least 10 characters; 12 is ideal for most home users.
- Mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Try to be unpredictable – don’t use your name, birthdate, or common words.
- Don’t use the same password for many accounts. If it’s stolen from you – or from one of the
companies with which you do business – it can be used to take over all your accounts.
- Don’t share passwords on the phone, in texts or by email. Legitimate companies will not send
you messages asking for your password. If you get such a message, it’s probably a scam.
- Keep your passwords in a secure place, out of plain sight.
Laura’s note: I once heard a great idea for creating secure passwords: use the first letter from each word of
your favorite song. The password will look unfathomable, but it will make perfect sense to you. An example:
“Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light?” could look like this as a password: “OscysBtdel” – you can
use upper and lowercase letters at breaks in the song, and/or add numbers as you like.
7. And finally, be sure to get your free annual credit report – from EACH of the three agencies – so you
can stay ahead of any fraudulent activity. Spacing out your requests every few months means you’ll
keep tabs on your credit more frequently and consistently. FAQ’s and How-To’s are here:
Of course, this works best when you can actually remember to do it! If your life’s too crazy for that to
be practical, a credit monitoring or alert service could be worth your while. Two services that our clients
have liked are www.creditkarma.com and www.lifelock.com. Many banks, credit unions, and
membership organizations (for example, AAA) also offer their customers a free credit report. Be wary
of unsolicited offers of this type of service; there’s usually a catch.
The legit way to order your free credit report annually is here:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 10528, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
how your information is protected at Shadowridge. If you have questions about it, please contact me.
If you like what you’ve read here, feel free to pass this on to someone who would benefit from this information. If you have general
questions or are wondering about your personal situation, please contact me directly. Finally, if you are not currently a client, and
would like to learn more about this topic or about our firm, I invite you to reach out to me anytime.