Spring has sprung! Iowans are out in the yard clearing brush collected over the winter, and indoors on rainy days cleaning up from a winter inside. While you are sprucing up the house, also make sure to set aside time to review, check-up, and clean up your personal and financial privacy settings and protection plans.
Step 1: Update your passwords!
Identity thieves love it when people and businesses set and keep the same passwords for years. If you don’t update your passwords an identity thief who gained your password through a privacy breach has an open road to your personal data. You can prevent fraud by changing your password at least once every year.
When you change passwords, don’t just change a digit or two, use a more complex phrase or sentence, or consider using an online random password generator to produce a password that virtually no human or machine could crack. Try to be unpredictable, don’t use common words, phrases, or other passwords that would be easy to guess. Use a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols. Don’t use the same passwords for separate accounts.
Step 2: Make sure your device software is up to date and install and update computer security software.
Check your smart phones, tablets, laptops, PC’s and other devices to ensure they are updated with the latest software versions. Providers routinely upgrade security settings and patch security holes with their updates. Better yet, set your web browser to update automatically. If you haven’t installed computer security software on your laptop or PC, check out these free providers, or choose others, but get it done:
Don’t leave your computer as a sitting target for identity thieves. Make sure you are using the latest versions. A privacy firewall is no good if it has weaknesses scam artists can use to easily access your private data.
Step 3: Check your privacy settings in social media.
Today, social media providers such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others have more incentive than ever to protect users’ personal data. They give users tools to set varying levels of privacy. Make sure you understand your options and choose the privacy settings that are right for you.
While spring is a great time for a security check-up and clean-up, make computer and device security a regular habit. For more information about all forms of identity theft, go to our website: IowaIdTheft.org.
April 15 is right around the corner, and we all want to file our tax returns on time. What we don’t want is to learn that someone already filed for us and tried to claim our refunds!
Since 2000, tax-related identity theft has grown significantly. The IRS, the Iowa Department of Revenue, state and federal consumer protection agencies, and taxpayers have all fought back. But tax-related identity theft remains a threat.
Identity thieves may try to steal an income tax refund by using the taxpayer’s Social Security number to file a tax return. Similarly, they may use a victim’s SSN to earn wages that are reported to the IRS as the victim’s income, thereby avoiding paying taxes themselves on the earnings.
Identity thieves get hold of Social Security numbers through various means. They make telemarketing calls to trick victims by saying they are with the IRS or some other agency and want to confirm the number. They buy Social Security numbers obtained through data breaches. They also trick victims through scam e-mails.
You may find out you’ve been a victim of income tax identity theft when you receive a letter from the IRS or the Iowa Department of Revenue saying more than one return was filed in your name or that you earned income you didn’t report.
If you have been notified someone has committed tax-related identity theft with your personal information report it promptly. Go to IdentityTheft.gov to complete and send the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit. By doing this, you will also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and obtain an ID theft recovery plan. Report it, even if you just think you are a victim but haven’t gotten confirmation.
Do not delay filing your income tax returns! Though you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft, you are still obligated to file your returns on time.
Unfortunately, tax-related identity theft affects Iowans every year. But, you can decrease the chances you will become a victim by filing your return as early as possible. Also, avoid giving personal information to someone who calls or e-mails you unexpectedly and says they are with the IRS. The IRS will generally only contact you by mail. If you are mailing your return, place it in a postal mail box – do not leave it in your home mailbox to be picked up by the mail carrier. Finally, when filing your return online, make sure you are using a secure server and never file your tax return on a public wifi.
This page was produced by the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance under award #2016-XV-GX-K004, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.