Identity theft can happen anytime of the year, but the coming weeks are perilous for taxpayers.
Tha's because through mid-February, employers, banks, brokerage firms and others mail out those year-end documents consumers need to file their tax returns, providing identity thieves with a once-a-year opportunity to easily get a hold of choice personal data.
Those W-2s, 1099 forms, retirement fund statements and other paperwork provide a treasure trove of sensitive information—including Social Security numbers—for identity thieves who follow postal carriers to pilfer the easily identified “Important Tax Information” envelopes after they’re delivered.
Some thieves swipe this mail, copy the vital information, and then re-deliver it to its destined mailbox a day or two later, leaving victims none the wiser. Then they may file for a bogus refund claim in your name (before you file your tax return), apply for credit accounts and loans in your name, or sell your details on the Black Market.
Considering the timing, i's no coincidence i's Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.
Installing a commercially available locked mailbox is great defense, but with the clock ticking, here are some additional tips to protect against the theft of this sensitive paperwork:
• Rent a P.O. Box at a U.S. Post Office for sensitive mail. The USPS does background checks on its employees and uses surveillance equipment. That may not be the case at commercial stores with mailboxes.
• For a free alternative, request that your mail be held at the post office, with photo identification required for pick-up. Complete this form, used for vacation mail holds and available at post offices.
• Keep notes of when expected tax forms arrive. If they seem delayed, call the sender to find out why. If you suspect mail theft, immediately contact your local office of the Postal Inspector’s Office.
• After filing your tax return, check the status of your IRS refund here. The agency says most refunds are processed within 21 days after receiving a return. Also check with state and local tax agencies, which may take longer to issue refunds.
• Check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com in March or April—and again a few months later—to ensure no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name. Under federal law, every American is entitled to three free reports per 12-month period at that website or by calling 1-877-322-8228. I's generally advised to get one from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus.
Victor Searcy is director of fraud operations at IDentity Theft 911.