Caution is the word

Identity thieves want you! And they want you any way that they can get you.

Old timers feel that simply being online is how they get you. As I’ve said before, your confidential financial information is online somewhere, whether you use it or not and whether you use a computer yourself. Today’s insight will prove that to you.

Suppose you’re an internet hermit, never been online and proud of it. Did you know that all of your income tax information and Social Security information is already there? A popular scam for many years is to file a fraudulent tax return on your behalf. Thieves would break into the system, pretend to be you, and file a return showing a whopping refund that then gets directed to an account that appears to be in your name. This fictitious account is not really in your name, and the thieves run away with your fabricated refund. You will discover this when you file the legitimate return and the IRS tells you that a return was already filed under that Social Security number.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, about 29 percent of all identity theft incidents were tax-related identity theft in 2016.

That is about 120,000 people. According to this same report, another 7 percent is related to government documents or benefits, including Social Security. Stealing your Social Security benefits is a newer trend, but growing. Those particularly vulnerable to Social Security ID and benefit theft are those at or beyond full retirement age who have not claimed their benefits yet, especially if benefits are not too large when compared to your net worth.

If your number comes up in the fraud lottery, both governmental agencies have a process for resolution. For Social Security fraud, call the agency immediately. Their phones are staffed weekdays from 7 a.m.- 7  p.m. Eastern time. For the IRS, naturally, they’ve got a form for that. You would file form 14039.

If you are compromised on any identity matters, immediately file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.com.

Preventing tax and Social Security fraud is not very different than the security measures you should be taking with your identity in general.

Protect your personal data. Don’t carry your Social Security card around with you, and make sure that any hardcopy records in your home or on your computer are stored securely.

Establish an account on SSA.gov, and monitor it closely. Each quarter is probably adequate. You can also enroll and pay for Identity theft protection from one of the sources out there. For many, this may be viewed as a frivolous expense. But for those who use such services, they find comfort in looking at their credit score reports regularly.

Make sure that your computer has a firewall and up-to-date antivirus software. The same would hold true for your passwords. Don’t carry around a little black book of your passwords or simply use the same password for multiple accounts or websites. Learn to recognize fake email that appears to be from your bank, credit card company or even the IRS.