Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Identity Theft During Tax Season

Christmas time for identity thieves is now upon us. W-2's, tax forms, financial statements, all come out this special time of year for just about every person in the country.

Many will think very little about putting all of their personal records in a folder and taking them to a preparer sitting in a kiosk or booth at the mall or at a store that has set up this temporary area to capitalize on tax season.

I was observing one such place recently and was shocked at what I saw.

For starters there was no shredder anywhere to be found and I saw papers just tossed in a garbage can close by. I was not about to sift through it but I am sure there were worksheets and other discarded items from the preparer that should have been shredded. Items that contained plenty of personal information and enough for a savvy thief to use.

I saw her and her clients leave the "booth" and documents were left out in the open on the desk for anyone to walk up sit down pretend to be waiting and with a simple pen and paper copy social security numbers down.

If you feel compelled to have your taxes completed in such an environment, try to be aware of your surroundings and who can see. Take all your papers with you when you leave, even the scraps and worksheets. Be sure the preparer has not left any of your information laying around.

Most importantly, keep in mind that many of these temporary stations are staffed by temporary workers. You may be providing your personal information to someone who has just been hired. While I have to believe that there was some screening process, that is no guarantee that your information will be kept safe.

These people are hired and trained to complete tax returns, collect a fee and do it as quickly as possible. Information safety and security is probably not very high on the list. I'm sure they were told about it, handed a sheet of paper on it, and technically speaking "trained" to handle it properly, but if the goal is something other than that, one has to keep in mind how diligent are they really going to be.

You really need to decide if this is the environment you want to have your personal information exposed too.