Avoiding Identity Theft During Tax Season

Tax season is upon us once again. It’s a time few people look forward to, especially seniors who have complicated tax returns. In recent years, a new challenge has been added to the mix: identity theft. While seniors are often targeted for scams, such as fake home repairs and telemarketing tricks, they are especially vulnerable to identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission says that summer used to be peak season for fraud against older adults, but identity theft in the months leading up to tax filing has become a real concern. 

As the 2020 tax deadline approaches, we share a few tips to protect yourself or a senior loved one from becoming a victim.

Ways to Protect Your Identity During Tax Season

   1. Work with a reputable accountant

If you don’t already have an established relationship with a tax professional, it might be time to hire one. An experienced accountant or financial advisor will be able to navigate the changing tax laws and ensure that you maximize your deductions. But it’s important to find a reputable professional. Ask friends and family for referrals. It’s usually a good way to find someone you can trust and feel comfortable working with. If you don’t have any luck with personal recommendations, online research is the next step. Read online reviews and take time to confirm any special licenses they claim to have.

   2. Don’t delay filing your taxes

Experts say the longer you wait to file your taxes, the greater the likelihood that someone will fraudulently file a false return using your information. While the IRS can usually resolve these issues, any refund you should be receiving could be tied up for months or possibly even years. You might even be forced to hire an attorney to help you, which might cost you plenty. The bottom line is to file well before the April 15 deadline to lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

   3. Secure your personal information

Older adults might have people in and out of the house helping with maintenance, repairs, and home care tasks. It can put them at increased risk for someone to steal important identifying information, such as a driver’s license number, social security card, or insurance card. Even credit card and investment statements can be used to commit fraud. Make it more difficult for people with ill intent to access your personal information by securing it in a lockbox or home safe. While it’s not as convenient, renting a safe deposit box at your bank is another option.

   4. Enroll in an identity theft protection program

Despite the safeguards you put in place, you might still fall victim to identity theft or a similar scam. The key to avoiding financial losses is to catch them early. Enrolling in an identity theft protection service can help. AARP has partnerships to protect seniors, from credit monitoring to suspicious activity alerts. You will likely find an option that meets your needs. 

   5. Stay informed about scams 

Every year or two, the IRS publishes a list of what it considers to be the “dirty dozen” top tax scams. This list from 2019 is especially insightful. It covers phone scams, phishing, and tax preparer fraud. Reduce your risk for identity theft by staying informed about new types of fraud. You can follow the FBI  and your local law enforcement agencies on Facebook to be alerted to new scams. The Better Business Bureau has another resource you might find helpful. BBB Scam Tracker allows people to both review and report cases of fraud. 

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