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Business // Thinking Smart
David S. Chang

Credit And Tax-Return Breaches

Credit card breaches and identity theft unfortunately are becoming more common: 40 million customer names, card numbers, the security codes and expiration dates were stolen from Target between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013. In addition, personal information for 70 million people also was stolen, totaling 110 million shoppers having their information stolen. Neiman Marcus this month said thieves also stole some of its customers’ payment information and made unau-horized charges over the holidays.

Identity theft is the top complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. It cost Americans $24.7 billion in 2012, $10 billion more than losses for household burglary, motor vehicle theft and property theft combined. This doesn’t include the time needed to fix them!

In addition to identity theft with credit, stealing tax returns now has become one of the top targets for thieves. In 2010, it was 15 percent of all identity theft complaints, and last year it jumped up to 43 percent!

So what can you do to protect yourself from identity thieves? Here are some tips to follow:

Avoiding Credit Breaches

• Visit artofthinkingsmart.com to find sites and companies that help monitor your credit. There are some companies, such as Credit Sesame, that offer this service for free. Some companies, including Lifelock, will send you a notification immediately if there is an inquiry or new account opened.

• Check your accounts on a regular basis to see if there are any unauthorized transactions. If there are, call the number on the back of your card immediately. In most cases, the card issuer will cover any loss.

• If shopping online, make sure the site, computer and network are secure to protect your information.

• Protect your usernames and passwords for your online sites. Be very careful in opening any emails and links that ask you to input your log-in information. Identity thieves use “phishing” emails to get this information and take over your accounts. It is best to use different usernames and passwords for each site. You can use programs such as 1Password and LastPass to keep track and store them.

Identity theft is the top complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. It cost Americans $24.7 billion in 2012, $10 billion more than losses for household burglary, motor vehicle theft and property theft combined.

Avoiding Tax Return Theft

• Protect your information. All thieves need to steal your tax return is your Social Security number and some counterfeit documents such as a W2. They then file your taxes to get your return before you do.

• File as early as possible. The IRS may be able to process your tax return before identity thieves can. If they file a fake return before you do, your legitimate return will be kicked back and the refund denied since the IRS computers show that you were already paid. The IRS says it can take about 180 days to resolve. The IRS is taking this seriously and has 3,000 employees devoted to identity theft and an additional 35,000 to recog-nize any fraud.

• When filing by mail, do it at the post office, not in an unlocked mailbox from which it can be stolen. If filing electronically, use a secure computer and network, not a public wi-fi spot where people can hack into your computer easily.

• Do not respond to unexpected emails or text messages from the IRS. The IRS initial contact is only by mail.

• Get a verification PIN code from the IRS that you must use to file future returns. This way, there is another security measure for refund thieves.

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