Tax season officially began on Jan. 1, which means you may soon be receiving “information returns” in your mailbox. Unfortunately, information returns are likely to contain your full Social Security number and other sensitive information.
Information returns are mailed by organizations, such as employers and financial institutions, that have provided you with income. The most common type of information return is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 1099. You will be mailed a Form 1099 if you received unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, interest, dividends, pensions, death benefits, or consulting fees. You can read the IRS’s Guide to Information Returns for a complete list.
Information returns are a target for identity thieves, especially if the returns include your Social Security number. Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers the following tips to reduce the risk of your mail falling into the wrong hands.
If you have moved during the year, be sure to provide your new address to any organization that might be mailing you an information return. This includes your employer (including past employers), your state’s unemployment office (if you have received unemployment benefits), your bank or credit union, and your stock broker.
Even if you have not moved during the year, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from having your sensitive mail fall into the wrong hands:
- Use a mailbox that locks or consider having your mail sent to a Post Office Box.
- Try to retrieve your mail as soon as possible after it has been delivered. Never leave it in your mailbox overnight.
- If you go on vacation, have your mail held at the Post Office, or have a trusted neighbor retrieve it.
- If you share a mailbox with roommates, make sure that you (not your roommates) receive all mail that is addressed to you.
When you are ready to file your tax return:
- Mail it at the Post Office or at an official USPS blue mail collection box.
- Don’t leave your tax return or other sensitive outgoing mail in your mailbox or at any other unsecured location for your letter carrier to pickup. Anyone might come along and steal your mail along with your personal information.
- Don’t leave your mail in a USPS collection box overnight. Be sure to check the posted times when mail is picked up, and never deposit your mail in a collection box after the final pick-up time for the day.
And if you’re waiting for the IRS to mail blank tax forms (such as IRS FORM 1040), this is no longer being done. In past years, the IRS has mailed tax form packages to those taxpayers who have paper-filed a tax return during the previous year. This year, taxpayers will need to call 1-800-TAX-FORM if they wish to order blank tax forms. The IRS is doing this to reduce costs and encourage the use of e-filing.
Our parting advice: At tax time, and throughout the year, remember to protect your sensitive personal information by practicing good mail hygiene.