10 Steps to Avoid Identity Theft

Someone who steals your identity around tax time is probably not intending to pay your back taxes for you. He or she could be after your refund!

Make sure your refund ends up in your hands and not those of a thief by practicing a few simple habits that can protect your personal information.

Take the following steps to keep your identity safe not only during tax season, but all year long:

1. Leave your Social Security card home.

A thief could use your stolen Social Security number (SSN) to file a fraudulent tax return early in tax season — before you’re likely to file — and then pocket the refund.

To prevent ID theft, don’t carry any document that contains your SSN.

2. Keep your SSN private.

Keeping your SSN private is critical. Provide your SSN to others only when absolutely necessary. Don’t give it out if a business asks for it over email. Also, check your Social Security Administration earnings statement annually to make sure all of your information is accurate.

3. Make your passwords work for you.

You don’t have to be tech-savvy to protect your accounts from hackers. Start by choosing a strong, unique password for each financial site you use, such as Desert Financial online banking or brokerage accounts. Don’t have your computer automatically save passwords, especially on work computers. Change passwords regularly.

4. Protect against computer spam and viruses.

Take advantage of the security software updates your operating system offers and make it a habit to use a firewall and anti-spam and anti-virus software. Before donating or recycling an old computer, consider using a data-wipe program to make sure nobody can recover your hard drive data. Alternatively, remove the hard drive and have it professionally destroyed.

5. Keep financial information private.

Thieves who can’t hack into your computer for your financial information may try to get your information in other ways. Be wary of providing personal information over the phone or through mail or email. Unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know the person you’re talking to, it’s better just to say no.

6. Beware of phishing.

Phishing is a term for scams that use official-looking emails that seem to come from the IRS or your financial institution, but are actually from thieves seeking your SSN, bank account information or passwords. Always be suspicious of this kind of email. The IRS never requests financial or personal information in email communications, and neither do legitimate companies including Desert Financial Credit Union. In addition, the IRS won’t call you to tell you that you owe taxes — they will send you a letter.

7. Shred financial and tax documents.

Thinking like a thief helps you reduce your risk of identity theft. Consider your tax documents, receipts and Desert Financial Credit Union statements as potential trapdoors that allow entrance into your personal life. If you want to dispose of these financial documents safely, shred them.

8. Keep on top of data breaches.

With so many data breaches making headlines in recent years, it’s more important than ever to safeguard your information and check for fraud. There are things you can do to avoid becoming a victim, including:

  • Find out what type of data was taken, if you receive notice of a data breach or computer hack.
  • Stay in close contact with the affected company and find out what it’s doing to protect you.
  • Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a “fraud alert” on your credit report.

9. Lock up your mailbox.

A locking mailbox can prevent someone from checking to see what mail you’ve received. Since letters may contain private financial information, a locking mailbox can also help to prevent identity theft.

10. File your taxes with TurboTax.

TurboTax takes great care to safeguard members’ data so they can file their taxes confidently. TurboTax protects your personal information through monitoring and internal checks, and they continually work with the IRS and state revenue departments on anti-fraud measures. As a Desert Financial Credit Union member, you can save up to $15 on TurboTax, which makes it an even more financially savvy option!

The material presented here is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be used as financial, investment, or legal advice.