Tag Archive for: id theft

Tax Time Identity Theft Prevention Tips

Identity theft speaker John Sileo shares his tax-time identity theft prevention tips.

This past week, I have been helping a gentleman recover from the theft of all of his tax records.  Before it is all over, this gentleman will have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars simply preventing any further fraudulent use of his identity. That doesn’t account for any damages already done to his finances, criminal record, medical records or social security benefits. There is very little that is more damaging and dangerous to your identity than losing your tax records. After all, tax records generally contain the most sensitive personally identifying information that you own, including Social Security Numbers (for you, your spouse and maybe even your kids), names, addresses, employers, net worth, etc. Because of this high concentration of sensitive data, tax time is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for identity thieves. Here are some of the dishes on which they greedily feed:

  • Tax documents exposed on your desk (home and work)
  • Private information that sits unprotected in your tax-preparer’s office
  • Improperly mailed, emailed and digitally transmitted or filed records
  • Photocopiers with hard drives that store a digital copy of your tax forms
  • Copies of sensitive documents that get thrown out without being shredded
  • Improperly stored and locked documents once your return is filed
  • Tax-time scams that take advantage of our propensity to do whatever the IRS says (even if it’s not really the IRS asking)

Top Tips for Tax Time Identity Theft Protection Safe Preparation. Your greatest risk of identity theft during tax season comes from your tax preparer (if you use one) either because they are dishonest (less likely) or because they are careless with your sensitive documents (more likely). Just walk into a tax-preparers office on April 1 and ask yourself how easy it would be to walk off with a few client folders containing mounds of profitable identity. The devil is in the disorganization. Effective Solutions:

  • Choose your preparer wisely. How well do you know the person and company preparing your taxes? Did they come personally recommended, or could they be earning cash on the side by selling your personal information. Do they have an established record and are they recommended by the Better Business Bureau?
  • Interview your preparer before you turn over sensitive information. Ask them exactly how they protect your privacy (do they have a privacy policy?). Are they meeting with you in a room full of client files, or do they take you to a neutral, data-free, conference room or office? Do they leave files out on their desk for the cleaning service to access at night, or do they lock your documents in a filing cabinet or behind a secure office door? Do they protect their computers with everything listed in the next section?
  • Asking professional tax preparers these questions sends them a message that you are watching! Identity thieves tend to stay away from people they know are actively monitoring for fraud. Remember, losing your identity inside of their accounting or bookkeeping business poses a tremendous legal liability to their livelihood.

Secure Computers. Last year, more than 80 million Americans filed their tax returns electronically. To prevent electronic identity theft, you must take the necessary steps to protect your computer, network and wireless connection. Additionally, your tax preparer should be working only on a secured computer, network and internet connection. Hire a professional to implement the following security measures:

  • Strong alpha-numeric passwords that keep strangers out of your system
  • Anti-virus and anti-spyware software configured with automatic updates
  • Encrypted hard drives or folders (especially for your tax preparer)
  • Automatic operating system updates and security patches
  • An encrypted wireless network protection
  • A firewall between your computer and the internet
  • Remove all file-sharing programs from your computer (limewire, napster, etc.)

Private information should be transmitted by phone using your cell or land line (don’t use cordless phones). In addition, never email your private information to anyone unless you are totally confident that you are using encrypted email. This is a rarity, so don’t assume you have it. In a pinch, you can email password protected PDF documents, though these are relatively easy to hack. Stop Falling for IRS Scams. We have a heightened response mechanism during tax season; we don’t want to raise any red flags with the IRS, so we tend to give our personal information without much thought. We are primed to be socially engineered. Here’s how to combat the problem:

  • Make your default answer, “No”. When someone asks for your Social Security Number or other identifying information, refuse until you are completely comfortable that they are legitimate. Verify their credentials by calling them back on a published number for the IRS.
  • If someone promises you (by phone, fax, mail, or in person) to drastically reduce your tax bill or speed up your tax return, don’t believe them until you have done your homework (call the IRS directly if you have to). These schemes flourish when the government issues economic stimulus checks and IRS refunds.
  • If anyone asks you for information in order to send you your check, they are scamming for your identity. The IRS already knows where you live (and where to send your rebate)! By the way, the IRS will NEVER email you for any reason (e.g., promising a refund, requesting information, threatening you).
  • To learn more about IRS scams, visit the only legitimate IRS website, which is www.irs.gov. If you are hit by an IRS scam, contact the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service at www.irs.gov/advocate.

Mail Safely. A good deal of identity theft takes place while tax documents or supporting material are being sent through the mail. If you are sending your tax return through the mail, follow these steps:

  • Walk the envelope inside of the post office and hand it to an employee. Too much mail is stolen out of the blue USPS mailboxes and driveway mailboxes that we use for everything else to make them safe.
  • Send your return by certified mail so that you know it has arrived safely. This sends a message to each mail carrier that they had better provide extra protection to the document they are carrying.
  • Consider filing electronically so that you take mail out of the equation. Make sure that you have a well-protected computer (discussed above).

Shred and Store Safely. Any copies of tax documents that you no longer need can be shredded using a confetti shredder. Store all tax records, documents and related materials in a secure fire safe. I recommend spending the extra money to have your safe bolted into your home so that a thief can’t walk away with your entire identity portfolio. Make sure that your tax provider appropriately destroys and locks up any lingering pieces of your identity as well. Tax returns provide more of your private information in a single place than almost any other document in our lives. Don’t waste your tax refund recovering from this crime.

John Sileo became one of America’s leading Social Networking Speakers & sought after Identity Theft Experts after he lost his business and more than $300,000 to identity theft and data breach. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer and the FDIC. To learn more about having him speak at your next meeting or conference, contact him by email or on 800.258.8076.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Privacy Leadership: How CEOs Enable Data Breach

Technology is not the root cause of identity theft, data breach or cyber crime.

We are.

Too often, technology is our scapegoat, providing a convenient excuse to sit apathetically in our corner offices, unwilling to put our money where our profits are. Unwilling, in this case, to even gaze over at the enormous profit-sucking sound that is mass data theft. The deeper cause of this crisis festers in the boardrooms of corporate America. Like an overflowing river, poor privacy leadership flows inexorably downhill from the CEO, until at last, it undermines the very banks that contain it.

The identity theft and data breach bottom line? Read more

Identity Theft Prevention in a Hotel

I just finished giving an identity theft prevention and data privacy speech for Pfizer and one of the questions I received was how to protect your laptop, passports, client files, etc. when you leave them behind in your hotel room. I’ve blogged on this before, but thought that I would post a quick video reminder on protecting your identity in a hotel room. We are at such a greater risk of identity theft when we are traveling that it is worth taking a second look at your habits.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0O4NLYOX8m0[/youtube]

For more tips of this type, please visit my YouTube Identity Theft Expert Video Channel at www.YouTube.com/JohnSileo. It is relatively new, but my office is working diligently to add content every week. Some people like to read, some like to watch, so I will continue to add blogs of both types. Travel wisely this summer.

John Sileo
Motivational Identity Theft Speaker

Top Tips to Stop Tax Time Identity Theft

If you receive my newsletter, you’ve already seen this article on identity theft during tax season, but I thought I would re-post it here.

Tax time is like Christmas for identity thieves. Our personal information sits out on desks (ours and our tax preparer’s), is mailed improperly, emailed incorrectly and stored unsafely. And to top it all off, Read more

Scrooge’s Top 10 Holiday ID Theft Protection Tips

scrooge.jpg 
“Might I have another lump of coal for the fire, Mr. Scrooge?”
                                  -Bob Cratchit (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol)

What in the world do we have to learn from Ebenezer Scrooge about protecting our identities during the busy holiday season?

Plenty!

Read more

Stop Identity Theft of a Deceased Family Member

I’ve just visited the fountain of youth. Have you ever had one of those experiences where you meet a person or a group of people that renews your faith in all that’s good in the world? I delivered a speech on identity theft prevention to AARP South Carolina (a chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons – an amazing organization that you should be part of if you are over 50) yesterday morning, and met a group that actually makes me look forward to growing up. Doris, Barb, Leigh Ann, Patrick, Lynda, Bill, Ridge, Charlie, Emily (I could name 50 more)… these are the people that greeted me like I was part of their family and treated me like someone special. They are some of the youngest spirits I’ve ever met. And I learned a great deal from them…

AARP had asked me to speak at their annual meeting as a thank you to their incredibly dedicated core of volunteers. These are people who put their muscle where their mouth is. And they paid attention and were so engaged that it was like giving a motivational identity theft speech. They inspired me! They must have had fifty additional great questions after the presentation that I didn’t have time to answer because they were headed into additional sessions. Given that, I’d like to take a few minutes to address a few of the items that pertain specifically to identity theft prevention for retirees and people over 50. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, let me point you to the resources on identity theft prevention that AARP provides on their website. They are extensive and geared to the retiree population.

But I want to elaborate on a question that one member of the audience brought up after the speech: identity theft of a deceased family member. This has to be one of the most callous, horrific forms of identity theft. Here a spouse is having to deal with the loss of their soul mate and a criminal takes advantage of their distraction and grief to profit from the deceased’s identity. Here are 5 steps to take after a loved-one has passed away to make sure that their identity rests in peace:

  1. Short Obituaries. Make sure that you don’t include too much identifying information when you write the obituary. Identity thieves use this information (mother’s maiden name, address, ancestry, occupation, birth date, death date) to set up new accounts, licenses, etc. in the deceased person’s name. It is important to honor the person, just don’t give away all of their personal information.
  2. Protect Death Certificates. Guard the death certificate like you would a birth certificate or other piece of identity. You will need to fax this document to certain organizations in order to prove that your family member is deceased, but only send it to trusted institutions who absolutely won’t take the name off of the account without it. When you are done with the death certificate, store the original and all copies in your SentrySafe where you keep other identity documents. Be forewarned that for securities sake, many organizations are requiring an original copy of the death certificate as proof, so ask for 10-12 originals copies when you request the death certificate.
  3. Notify Credit Bureaus. Immediately notify the three credit reporting bureaus that your family member has passed away. Request that the credit report is flagged with the note: Deceased, Do Not Issue Credit. Request a copy of the decedent’s credit report so that you will have a list of all of the accounts you need to modify/close (see Step 4). The procedure varies by credit burea, so the numbers to contact them are as follows: Experian – 888-397-3742; Equifax – 888-766-0008; TransUnion – 800-680-7289. Don’t wait for the Social Security Administration to notify the credit bureaus – it takes them too long! And make sure to log all correspondence and conversations and send documents via certified mail so that you have proof of delivery, should you ever need to dispute a claim of non-receipt.
  4. Notify Financial Institutions. Notify all banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, stock brokers, mortgage companies, loan/lien holders, etc. about the death of your family member (if it was a joint account OR an account under their name). The executor or surviving spouse will need to resolve all outstanding debts and how they will be dealt with before the account can be closed or the deceased person’s name is removed from the account. Also notify the Social Security Administration, Veteran’s Administration, Department of Motor Vehicles, professional license associations (Bar Association), membership programs (Costco, Sam’s, Blockbuster, etc.) and any creditors or collection agencies with which the deceased had an account or membership. This is a difficult time to put in all of the work to protect an identity that should be left alone; but the current reality is that the identities of deceased individuals are easier to steal and abuse than those of the living.
  5. Share Wisely with Family Members. Unfortunately, many cases of deceased identity theft are committed by a member of the deceased’s family. It might be a relative who is in financial trouble, a friend who has a costly addiction or a child that feels he or she was wronged in the will or estate planning. For that reason, the identifying information of a deceased family member should be kept to as small a circle as possible. It seems to work best when one family member is the point-person for collection of documents, closing of accounts, checking of credit, etc. Generally this is someone other than the person who organizes all of the other events that surround the death of a loved one.

This is a heavy topic on the heels of such a wonderful encounter in South Carolina. But as any one who has survived the death of a spouse knows, the responsibility and respect for that person continue long past the date of their death. I hope that these suggestions make that burden/blessing a little bit easier.

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft and cybersecurity. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.