Ah, Spring is in the air. Time to get yourself set for the year to come. A common spring trend is to clean out your living space and getting rid of old things you no longer need in order to make room for the acquisitions, occasions, and messes sure to come in 2014. What follows are a few helpful steps to mitigating your risk of identity theft as you roll up your sleeves and get started with spring cleaning this year.
File Your Taxes as Early as Possible:
Spring time means tax season, and tax season has become a hot bed for identity theft activity over the past few years. In 2010, about 15 percent of all identity theft complaints dealt with tax returns. In 2013, that number has skyrocketed to 43 percent, according to USA Today. The IRS has implemented a digital process for filing returns to expedite the process and make it faster and more convenient for tax payers to file their returns. The downside to this added convenience has been the ability for fraudsters to file fraudulent returns with much less difficulty than in the past. The best way to avoid becoming a victim of tax fraud is to beat the fraudster to the punch by being the first one to file a return under a given Social Security Number. Otherwise you’ll have to re-submit and wait anywhere from 6 months up to a couple years for the IRS to sort out and correct the mistake. If you were expecting a return on your taxes, it will be delayed until they can review your return.
Buy a Shredder:
Even with all the advancing technology, one of the most common ways identity thieves gain access to your personal data is through low tech methods such as stealing a purse or wallet, or by dumpster diving through your trash. According to a recent Bureau of Justice and Statistics study, you’re more than twice as likely to suffer from identity theft if you lived in an “urban” or “suburban” area as opposed to a “rural” area. One could extrapolate that physical information theft increases with increased proximity to others. Buy a cross-cut shredder and always shred old documents if they contain personal information like bank account, or Social Security numbers. You might also think about keeping an eye on the digital footprint you’re making every time you sit down at your computer. Consider cleaning out/deleting old files you no longer have a use for, especially if they have personally identifying information in them. Have someone keep an eye on your digital footprint so that they can clue you in should something be amiss. There are services that offer ID theft protection and monitoring of credit and financial information. According to their site, one of these services—LifeLock—will send alerts via email or text whenever a threat is detected.
Don’t Forget to Clean Out That Wallet or Purse:
Having a wallet or purse lost or stolen is still one of the most common ways people become victims of identity theft, as IDTheftCenter.org explains. Lost or stolen purses and wallets happen all the time. Don’t let laziness or carelessness change that occurrence from a temporary inconvenience to a life-long issue. Keep Social Security data in a safe and secure place, where it is extremely unlikely to be lost or stolen (think locking cabinet in your home office or even a safe deposit box). Only carry this documentation when and if you have an immediate need for them.