So, you’ve gotten your W-2, you’re ready to file your taxes, but you’re concerned about the best way to file your tax return. Tax laws are so complicated, most of us realize we just won’t know enough to be sure we are getting back everything we are due – and the IRS is not prone to telling us “Oh, hey, you missed this deduction, we’ll just give you the money we owe you.” (Boy, it would sure be nice if they did!) Using a tax preparation service has some risk involved – the biggest being that you are giving your personal financial information to someone else and trusting they won’t misuse it. Some of us will end up looking at e-filing, whether that means using a service, or using a website to file our taxes online. Surprisingly, this is a lot safer than most people realize, and you get your return a lot quicker. But there are still some things you will want to know before you decide on a service to e-file, or even if you want to use an electronic filing service.
Make sure the e-filer is registered with the IRS. Kroll Fraud Solutions, the leading financial risk-management company in the world, says there are some things you need to do in order to help protect yourself from identity theft. The biggest (and most obvious) thing you can do is make sure the company you use to electronically file your taxes is registered with the IRS. Here’s a big hint, if they aren’t registered with the IRS, don’t expect a refund if you use their service. You should check the IRS website to see who is registered with them in your area before you decide to e-file your taxes.
Don’t use a public computer to e-file. You might be tempted to file from a public library or some other public area… don’t. Public computers are often infected with key-loggers or spyware, programs that will capture the information you type in and put it in unsavory hands.
Don’t use public networks, either. In this hurry-scurry day and age, it’s easy to grab a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop and log into their free Wi-Fi to do what you need to online between appointments or something. But if you can log into the network for free, so can identity thieves – and they often will.
Beware of tax-time phishing schemes. Identity thieves are working overtime this time of year, sending out phishing emails, texts, even making phone calls directly to you acting like they are from the IRS or some other government agency offering to “help” you resolve a problem they say you have. The best thing to remember is the IRS only communicates with you by mail. No text message, phone call, fax or email is ever from the IRS. Do not give out your information over the phone if you did not originate the call, and then only if you know who you are talking to on the other end. Anyone can say whatever they want on a phone call, demand proof of who you are dealing with.
One other thing to keep in mind as you’re dealing with your taxes this year: shred your old tax information. The IRS can call an audit on tax information as far back as seven years. Beyond that, there’s no reason to keep the tax records on hand. So when you file your return this year, find the ones older than 7 years, and get rid of them (by shredding them or burning them, of course.)
After all, an identity thief can’t take what you don’t have.