Prevent Tax ID Fraud
Get Financially Fit
Stay Safe Online
As tax season gets underway, Midstates Bank is urging all customers to take extra precaution when filing their return to prevent their exposure to tax fraud.
“Fraudsters are using very clever tactics to get a hold of your personal information and submit false tax claims,” said COO Dee Dee Schmidt. “Consumers must be suspicious of any communication from the IRS ¾ through email, text or social media ¾ that requests personal information, and should keep a watchful eye out for missing W-2s and mail containing sensitive financial information.”
Tax identity fraud takes place when a criminal files a false tax return using a stolen Social Security number in order to fraudulently claim the refund. Identity thieves generally file false claims early in the year and victims are unaware until they file a return and learn one has already been filed in their name.
To help consumers prevent tax ID fraud, Midstates Bank is offering the following tips:
- File early. File your tax return as soon as you’re able giving criminals less time to use your information to file a false return.
- File on a protected Wi-Fi network. If you’re using an online service to file your return, be sure you’re connected to a password-protected personal network. Avoid using public networks like a Wi-Fi hotspot at a coffee shop.
- Use a secure mailbox. If you’re filing by mail, drop your tax return at the post office or an official postal box instead of your mailbox at home. Some criminals look for completed tax return forms in home mailboxes during tax season.
- Find a tax preparer you trust. If you’re planning to hire someone to do your taxes, get recommendations and research a tax preparer thoroughly before handing over all of your financial information.
- Shred what you don’t need. Once you’ve completed your tax return, shred the sensitive documents that you no longer need and safely file away the ones you do.
- Beware of phishing scams by email, text or phone. Scammers may try to solicit sensitive information by impersonating the IRS. Know that the IRS will not contact you by email, text or social media. If the IRS needs information, they will contact you by mail first.
- Keep an eye out for missing mail. Fraudsters look for W-2s, tax refunds or other mail containing your financial information. If you don’t receive your W-2s, and your employer indicates they’ve been mailed, or it looks like it has been previously opened upon delivery, contact the IRS immediately.
If you believe you’re a victim of tax identity theft or if the IRS denies your tax return because one has previously been filed under your name, alert the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490. In addition, you should:
- Respond immediately to any IRS notice and complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit.
- Contact your bank immediately, and close any accounts opened without your permission or tampered with.
- Contact the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records:
- Equifax, www.Equifax.com, 1-800-525-6285
- Experian, www.Experian.com, 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion, www.TransUnion.com, 1-800-680-7289
- Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you must do so by paper.
The new year is an ideal time to set new goals, as many vow to become more physically fit or get organized. The new year is also a great time to assess your finances, gain control and stick to a new budget or saving plan. Taking control of your personal finances will allow you to save and prepare for unexpected expenses.
Get financially fit this January. Midstates Bank, in partnership with the American Bankers Association, recommends following the tips below to get started.
- Get Organized. Consider treating yourself to a post-holiday gift of a financial organization system. Alphabetized file folders, or filing systems specifically for financial organization are available in January as people begin to prepare for tax season. Take advantage and start the new year with an organizational system. While you're getting organized, consider buying a shredder to keep your personal information safe from identity theft.
- Create a Budget. Track your income and expenses to see how much money you have coming in and how much you spend. If you have debt, establishing a budget will help you to pay down your debt while saving. Use computer software programs or basic budgeting worksheets to help create your budget. Include as much information as you can and review your budget regularly. Print several copies of this budgeting worksheet to help you get started.
- Identify how you spend your money.
- Set realistic goals, especially if you plan to cut some of your expenses.
- Track your spending and review your budget often.
- Lower Your Debt. Debt from student loans, mortgages and credit cards is nearly unavoidable. Most families carry about $10,000 in credit card debt. Spending more money than you bring in can lead to financial stress. Establish a budget to pay down debts while you save. Points to consider when cutting debt:
- Pay more than the minimum due and pay on time.
- Pay off debt with higher interest rates first.
- Transfer high rate debt to credit cards with a lower interest rate.
- Use credit cards and loans for purchases that will appreciate in value like a home.
- Save for the Unexpected and Beyond
Pay yourself first. Saving is important; it ensures a comfortable future that can endure financial surprises. No matter how old you are, it's never too late to begin saving.
- Save at least 10 percent of your income for retirement. Enroll in a retirement plan or consider optimizing an established retirement plan. Contribute at least the maximum amount that your employer will match. Contributions made to these types of plans are tax deductible. If your employer does not offer a retirement savings plan, many banks offer Individual Retirement Accounts. IRAs offer tax-deferred growth, meaning you pay taxes on your investment gains when you make withdrawals.
- Financial advisors often recommend keeping about three months salary in a savings account in case of financial emergencies like hospital bills or loss of job.
- Increase your contribution as your income increases.
- If you receive direct deposit at work, ask your employer to send a specific amount to your savings account. Because the money is put into an account before you have a chance to spend it, automatic savings plans are an easy and convenient way to save. If your employer doesn't offer direct deposit, many banks allow for automatic transfers from checking to savings accounts.
- Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
- Establish passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Take action to protect your debit card. Text alerts give you a quick and easy way to monitor your debit card for fraudulent purchases. To set up alerts, sign on to Midstates Bank app and go to Text Banking under the Messaging menu and tap Add Alert. View step-by-step directions in our Account Alerts FAQ.
- Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with. Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at email@example.com – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.
- Recognize and avoid bogus website links. Cybercriminals embed malicious links to download malware onto devices and/or/ route users to bogus websites. Hover over suspicious links to view the actual URL that you are being routed to. Fraudulent links are often disguised by simple changes in the URL. For example: www.ABC-Bank.com vs ABC_Bank.com
- Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc. Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
- Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it. Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app to secure and encrypt your communications when connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. (See the Federal Trade Commission’s tips for selecting a VPN app)
- Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
When you decide to support a cause you care about, you want your donation to count. Doing some research and planning your giving can help ensure your donations get where they’ll do good. Here are tips to help you plan your donation– and avoid scams.
- Look up a charity’s reports and ratings:
- Check out the charity’s ratings with groups like the Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and Guide Star. Find out how at FTC.gov/Charity.
- Verify the organization is registered with your state charity regulator. Most states require charities or their fundraisers to register.
- Never pay by gift card or wire transfer. If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it. That’s how scammers ask you to pay. To be safer, pay by credit card or check.
- Beware of fake charity names. Watch out for names that only look like well-known charities. Some scammers use names that sound a lot like the names of real charities. This is one reason it pays to do some research before giving.
- Search the charity name online. Look up the organization online and read what others are saying about it. Search the charity’s name with the terms “scam” or “complaint.”
- Ask “How much goes to the program I want?” A legitimate charity will give you information about their mission, how your donation will be used and proof that your contribution is tax deductible. Some charities allow you to specify exactly where your gift is headed, either to a specific orphanage, to purchase school supplies or to a geographic area in need of relief. By designating or earmarking your gift, you control where your donation goes and whom it helps.
- Stay safe with online donations. Before clicking on a link to donate online, make sure you know who is receiving your donation.
If you see any red flags, or if you’re not sure about how a charity will use your donation, consider giving to a different charity. There are many worthy organizations who will use your donation wisely.
Report scams to FTC.gov/complaint. Find your state charity regulator at nasconet.org and report to them, too. Share any information you have – like the name of the organization or fundraiser, phone number, and what the fundraiser said.
American Bankers Association (2018, December 6). Charitable Giving Tips. Retrieved from https://www.aba.com
Federal Trade Commission (2018, December 6). How to Donate Wisely and Avoid Charity Scams. Retrieved from https://www.consumer.ftc.gov