Source: IdentityTheftPreventionTips.com

Telling Tips is a series of articles from local experts to help you save money, make better decisions and plan for a better future.

After spending his Friday evening voluntarily cleaning up hundreds of documents containing names, addresses, Social Security numbers, bank account information and other information coveted by identity thieves that were accidentally strewn across a busy Sheepshead Bay intersection, we asked Reisman if he could focus this week’s column on identity theft, and how residents can protect themselves. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the advice of an expert and a superhero.

In 2010, 270,500 taxpayers were victims of income tax identity theft;

In 2011, more than 640,000 taxpayers were victims;

In 2012, more than (fill in the blankwill be victims.

You don’t have to be a victim.

You’ve heard the news, ‘bank security hacked, depositors personal information stolen,’ ‘laptop computer left at airport, personal information of all employees lost,’ ‘government agency throws out sensitive taxpayer information in dumpster,’ ‘cleaning lady throws out tax returns with dirty rags, and litters local street.’ At a recent tax seminar, more than half of the tax preparers reported a doubling of identity theft amongst their clients — in Brooklyn. Identity theft is the number one consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission.

Your tax preparer calls and says that your tax return cannot be electronically filed because your (or your spouse’s, or your child’s) Social Security number was already used on another tax return. And your reaction is: ‘The IRS will help take care of it.’ Right? With what manpower? Despite common belief, the IRS does not know everything. The Washington Post reported that 48,800 prisoners claimed $130 million in fraudulent tax refunds last year, and that there were 940,000 fraudulent tax returns last year claiming $6.5 billion in refunds. The IRS is overloaded.

If you are a victim, you will not get your refund for many, many months. You will not be able to e-File without obtaining other ID proof.

You will suffer.

If you have not had your identity stolen, you probably know of someone who has — a neighbor or a family member.

Identity theft happens and you have no control. Or do you?

Take Preventative Action:

  1. Don’t just trash your mail — shred it first. This includes all financial documents and any paperwork containing any personal information, including old bank statements, bills, and pre-approved credit card offers.
  2. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Resist giving out your number. Offer some other means of proof.
  3. Don’t trust the internet, the phone, or that nice stranger. Don’t give out your personal information. If you shop online, only shop on sites that encrypt your credit card information. These sites begin with ‘https’ instead of the usual ‘http.’
  4. If you use a computer, don’t open unsolicited emails. Make sure your computer has a firewall, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software — and keep these up-to-date.
  5. Don’t use obvious passwords like your birthday, mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Use numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and symbols in your password — and change it at least every three months.
  6. Secure your information at home, especially if you have a roommate, domestic help, or any contractor around.
  7. Don’t use Wi-Fi to access secure accounts.
  8. Photocopy all documents you have in your wallet or purse — driver’s license, credit cards, etc. If your wallet or purse is stolen or lost, you will know what was in it and can take immediate action.

Be Alert:

  1. Note when bills are supposed to arrive, and inspect them carefully for unknown charges.
  2. Inquire if you receive any unsolicited credit cards, or denial of credit.
  3. Carefully review your credit report, as it shows all of your credit cards, loans, and your payment history.
  4. By law, you can have a free copy of your credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. I suggest ordering from one company in January, from the second company in May, and the third in September. And if you are married, order your spouse’s report a month later (February, June, and October). Use www.AnnualCreditReport.com. This monitoring is one of the most important steps to safeguard your identity.

Be Pro-Active:

  1. If you are not sure about something, err on the side of caution. Ask for help from the credit agencies.
  2. Don’t leave envelopes containing checks in your home mailbox for the carrier to take. Drop these in the mailbox.
  3. Don’t throw out an old computer. Get help to delete the hard drive.

On The Fringes:

  1. Pay attention to your medical bills to make sure they are yours.
  2. And don’t forget the children. According to www.AllClearID.com, children are 35 times more likely to have their identities stolen than are adults. By the way, this site is free, as is www.CreditSesame.com.

Have a safe week.

Joseph Reisman, of Joseph S. Reisman & Associates, has been serving tax prep and business accounting expertise from his Coney Island Avenue office for more than 25 years. Check out the firm’s website.

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  • ShadowLock

    IF your russian, and you go to Russian websites, you probably already have a Virus / Malware.  a popular virus now a days is the Youtube downloader, it masks itself in the program so when you think your installing a Youtube downloader your actually installing a Backdoor virus…  and anything you get from Torrents is also Virus infected.

    If you use Wifi a lot, there is something i stumbled upon, called VPN, you can get a really good one at http://www.hotspotshield.com it’s free but limited, the paid is much much better.  (also includes pass for android / iphone)

    a few good things to have,

    Malwarebytes
    SuperAntiSpyware
    and Hitman Pro (http://www.surfright.nl/en/hitmanpro/) <—- Second opinion Malware detector.

    As for Anti Virus, i enjoy AVG. other people have their own things but that's what i prefer.

    hmm, Also for those people still using Internet Explorer, it's time to change your browser, IE isn't safe at all. in fact most of the malware that gets released is made for IE first before any browsers. 

    I suggest getting Mozilla Firefox  or Google Chrome which are updated monthly.

    and once you get Firefox you can get MyWot (http://www.mywot.com/) this will tell you if the site is Safe or Not.

    GoodLuck folks.

    • winson

      is VGrabber – YouTube Download a vrius?

      • ShadowLock

        No, that looks like Malware. From what i gathered on the net it’s just a useless converter people accidentally install on their computer.

        http://goo.gl/mLggp

    • Guest

       As a network administrator with 15 years of experience protecting very large networks this is very amateur advice at best.  Don’t get too worked up about security on your home computer.  Install a virus scanner (free ones are fine) and just don’t do anything crazy.  If weird things start happening, don’t try to self diagnose, have someone look at it.  Keep in mind that the vast, vast majority of identity theft doesn’t occur because someone broke into your computer.  That would be a very inefficient way of collecting information.  Most identity theft occurs because an intern leaves a laptop with 500,000 names and socials in a starbucks somewhere or a bank gets broken into.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    I shred anything that has my name and address on it. Those two identifiers are little in themselves but shredding them makes it more difficult to try putting the pieces together. The more you more shred at one time the better.

  • NSF

    I discovered my SSN was stolen when I filed electronically in March. I had to refile by snail mail with hard copies of everything.
     In a recent call to the IRS, an agent said it could take up to three to four MORE months before I get my refund. He also estimated tat this year the number of income tax ID thefts could top one million! One IRS investigator told me in April that thieves sometimes select nine numbers at random and apply for a modest refund, hoping it won’t draw too much attention–until the correct individual actually files. I’ve closely monitored my accounts since the March theft and patiently wait for my refund.

  • bagels

    It’s amazing how many doctors’ intake forms for new patients still have a space for your social security number. They don’t need this info to bill you or your insurance company.