You can reduce the chances of identity theft this tax season

Each year, more Americans choose to file their taxes online due to convenience, faster turn around on refunds and more accurate returns.

In fact, the Internal Revenue Service reported that more than 86 million taxpayers filed taxes online during the 2008 tax-filing season, a 12 percent increase from the previous year.

While e-filing continues to grow in popularity and hard copy returns become a thing of the past, Americans still send and receive a large quantity of confidential information on paper documents. W-2 forms, old pay stubs and investment information?all can leave you vulnerable to identity theft.

Last year alone, identity theft affected nearly 8.1 million Americans, amounting to $45 billion in monetary losses, according to Javelin Strategy and Research.

?Identity thieves are out in full force during tax season,? said Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center. ?Confidential tax information is all they need to steal someone?s identity and rack up thousands of dollars in fraudulent charges. Consumers need to be careful with their papers and take the necessary precautions to protect against the crime.?

To ensure you don?t fall victim to identity theft, make sure you properly store and destroy sensitive information you no longer need. Shredding is the single most effective way to get rid of this confidential paperwork.

When destroying tax records, it?s best to use a shredder that has cross-cut capabilities, which ensures documents are nearly impossible for thieves to piece back together.

?During tax season, shredding sensitive paperwork is a vital step to protecting private information from identity thieves that are on the look out for unsuspecting victims,? said Nancy Heaton, senior global marketing manager at Fellowes Inc., the leading shredder manufacturer.

?Shredding will not only protect against identity theft, but will help keep you more organized during this already hectic time of year.?

In addition to shredding, there are several tips people should consider this tax season to ensure their private information doesn?t end up in the wrong hands.

When filing taxes online

n Choose a tax-filing service you are familiar with. The IRS doesn?t offer software or direct filing, but it provides a list of approved companies at www.irs.gov/efile.

n Make sure personal computers are protected with updated firewall and secure software systems, which contain antivirus and anti-spyware programs.

n If you are storing important tax-related documents on your computer, change your passwords frequently between December and April.

n Ensure that every Web site used during tax filing is encrypted to protect personal information when transmitted.

n Shred any backup documents once you?ve filed your taxes online.

When filing taxes by mail

n Regularly check the mailbox for W-2 forms and other documents containing sensitive information that arrive by mail. If you don?t receive these documents by Feb. 15, contact the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040, as missing forms may be an indication that an identity thief went through your mail.

n Send completed tax returns from a locked mailbox or the post office. If mailing from home, do not put the mailbox flag up. This only alerts identity thieves that there may be an outgoing check in the mail.

n Make sure tax forms, backup documents and enclosed checks are not visible from the outside. Try wrapping your forms in an extra sheet of paper to disguise the contents of the envelope.

n Keep tax paperwork and other documents in a safe and accessible place, such as a fireproof box in your home.

For additional identity theft prevention tips and filing information, visit www.fellowes.com or check with your tax professional.

Courtesy of ARAcontent?

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