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Too many people downplay the threat of identity theft because it hasn't been witnessed or experienced firsthand. This false sense of security can leave you exposed, especially during tax season. Here are some tips to keep your identity safe from scammers:
1. Be naturally suspicious. Understand that there are people out there trying to get your information, and others willing to pay for it. With that knowledge, be suspicious of anyone asking for personal information - especially your Social Security number (SSN). Even when a known vendor asks for your SSN, ask what they will be using it for and refuse most requests unless you deem it necessary.
2. File your tax return as soon as possible. A popular tax scam is to file a fake tax return and deposit the refund into the thief's account, all before you get the chance to file your own return. You close the door on scammers once your tax return is filed with the IRS.
3. Shred (don't just crumple) your documents. Get in the habit of shredding all paperwork before it's thrown out to keep personal information from falling into the wrong hands. If you don't own a shredder, contact your bank or other local community services as they often offer free shredding services on specific days.
4. Keep your Social Security card safe. Only carry your Social Security card with you when it's needed for a specific purpose. Your wallet or purse is not a good permanent spot for your card. Any criminal would have a treasure trove of personal data if it were to get lost or stolen along with your driver's license and credit cards.
5. Periodically check your credit reports. The three major collection agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) are legally required to provide you with a free credit report each year. Take advantage of this service and review the reports. Correct any errors and use this report to monitor your accounts for any potential identity theft.
Be smart when handling your personal information. Don't get caught off guard by identity theft, especially by being careless. If you think you are a victim of a tax scam, alert the IRS right away and go to identitytheft.gov for more information.