The recent breach of more than 100,000 tax accounts through the IRS’s “Get Transcript” application serves as a reminder that in today’s digital society, protecting our personal information is more important than ever. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 16.6 million people were affected by identity theft in 2012, with financial losses of $24.7 billion -- $10 billion more than any in other form of property crime.
As technology advances and becomes ever more integrated into our everyday lives, it becomes easier for identity thieves to obtain personal information. Once this information is stolen, it can then be used for many nefarious purposes, such as unauthorized purchases, opening new accounts or even filing false federal or state Income Tax Returns to generate and cash fabricated refunds.
Given all the ways in which your personal information can be compromised, it is important to be proactive in preventing identity theft. Following are tips everybody can use to reduce their risk:
- Keep personal documentation (social security card, birth certificate, etc.) in a locked safe.
- Check your credit report every year. The major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) allow consumers to obtain a free credit report annually. It is important to check your credit report regularly and scan it for any fraudulent activity.
- Do not give your social security number to anyone who asks for it without checking first whether it is required for the transaction you are engaged in.
- Make sure all personal and business computers have anti-virus protection as well as firewalls.
- Use a cross-cut shredder to dispose of all documents containing personal information.
- When entering personal information into a website, ensure the site is secure by verifying that it has “wwws” before the name of webpage in the address bar and that it has a picture of a padlock (usually next to the address bar). Secure websites will have both of these markings.