You don’t have to follow the news very closely to know that identity theft and cyberattacks are becoming bigger and bigger threats each year. Remember what happened to Target? In late 2013, hackers stole credit card data from more than 40 million of its shoppers. Target is hardly alone. Home Depot, Apple, Wal-Mart, Neiman Marcus, and, of course, Sony, are all household names that have been hit by cyberattacks.
These massive breaches have demonstrated that criminals are employing increasingly sophisticated methods, which is why you need to be as vigilant as possible in protecting your identity. There are several simple steps that we recommend our clients take to protect themselves from identity theft and other cyberattacks.
What steps can you take to protect to your identity?
Review your credit report: One way to protect yourself from identity theft is to mitigate the damage by spotting any potential breaches as soon as possible. That is why it is a good idea to request a credit report twice a year. Reviewing your credit report allows to you see if there has been any credit card or loan activity by someone pretending to be you. The benefits of reviewing your credit report extend beyond protecting your identity. It also gives you a chance to identify and contest any inaccuracies. If you let potential errors fester on your report, they can drastically affect your ability to qualify for a loan or receive the most competitive interest rates.
You don’t even have to pay for a credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Each agency will provide you with one free credit report a year. Call your bank, too. More and more banks are offering customers free credit reports.
Use our ShareFile to securely send documents electronically: Email services like Gmail and Yahoo! are not encrypted, which means the information sent over these systems is vulnerable to being intercepted by hackers. That is why you don’t want to send tax documents, which contain your Social Security number, account numbers, and all sorts of other sensitive information, via your regular email account.
When you send tax documents to our office this tax year, use our new ShareFile system, which encrypts the data and adds important layers of security. If you have questions about using this service, which is free to our clients, please contact us (773.525.6171; email@example.com) and we will walk you through the process.
Click here to upload files securely to Eilts & Associates using ShareFile
Use strong passwords
The general rule to remember for passwords is that the longer it is, the securer it will be. Try to always include numbers and special characters, and avoid using the names of places, friends, or pets. The more nonsensical (i.e., not actual words) your password is, the less likely that a hacker’s algorithm will be able to guess it.
Monitor your email accounts
Thieves can break into your email account and subsequently send messages to banks and other financial institutions requesting money transfers. You should regularly check your sent and trash folders for any messages that you don’t recognize sending. When you are using a public computer, sign out of your email account at the end of each session.
Set up a passcode on your smartphone
Your phone holds a trove of valuable information that an identity thief would like to access. This is why you should set up a pin or thumbprint touch ID so that there’s an added layer of protection between strangers and your phone.
Safely discard of old documents
Even though cybercriminals are using increasingly sophisticated online methods to steal information, good old-fashioned dumpster diving is still a commonly used tactic by identity thieves. It is important to shred any documents that contain sensitive information before throwing them away.
Beware of IRS phone scams
As we reported in a blog post last fall, there has been a recent increase in attempted phone scams involving callers pretending to be IRS agents. Do not ever give any personal information to a caller purporting to be from the IRS. The IRS will never call or email you; if the IRS wants to contact you about a tax matter, you will receive a letter in the mail.
How long should you hang on to old documents?
You should hang on to W-2 forms, account statements, receipts, and other documentation that you used to file your taxes for three years. If the Internal Revenue Service believes that you have made good-faith errors on your tax return, the IRS has up to three years to challenge your filing.
Despite this three-year statute of limitations, it is smart to keep certain important documents indefinitely. Tax returns, HUD closing statements from the purchase of a house, and other home improvement records provide valuable historical information and should be kept indefinitely (either as a hard copy or a scanned copy).
What is Shredder Day and why should you go?
Eilts & Associates is hosting our first-ever Shredder Day on Sunday, February 15 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at our office (3711 N. Ravenswood). Shredder Day is an opportunity for you to bring your financial documents from 2010 and older for free and secure shredding. Our professional shredder service will take everything off your hands so that sensitive information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
If you decide to join us at Shredder Day, we encourage you to bring in your 2014 tax information so that we can get started on this year’s return. By January 31, you should have received most of the documents you’ll need to file your taxes: W-2, 1098, 1099, and confirmations of charitable donations. Don’t worry if you are still missing an item or two by February 15; we can get started with what you do have.
Please do not hesitate to contact us (773.525.6171; firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions about your tax return or the best practices for protecting your identity. We hope to see you on Shredder Day.