Tax day 2011: Four ways to protect your tax returns from data thieves

Tax-related identity theft is the fastest growing kind of identity theft. Between 2005 and 2009 complaints to the Federal Trade Commission tripled from 11,000 to nearly 34,000, according to a Scripps Howard News Service investigation. Thieves steal personal information to use for themselves or sell, or they take it to divert a tax refund into their own pockets. Identity theft, as a whole, is on the decline, but the abundance of personal information in circulation during tax season makes it a prime time for thieves to strike. Here are four tips for keeping your information safe:

1. Store and send electronic documents with caution

Jacquelyn Martin / AP / File
Bryan Tillman works on a computer in southeast Washington, Friday, April 1, 2011. Using a computer to store or send tax-related documents can be risky.

If you’re planning to store any sensitive personal information on your computer, first make sure it’s virus free. If your computer is infected with malicious software, it’s possible for somebody else to steal documents or record your keystrokes.

“Anything that you send electronically or type electronically could potentially be gleaned by a thief,” says Denise Terry of

Ms. Terry says that if you’re using an accountant, it’s much safer to hand deliver electronic files on a USB, and if you must e-mail it, do so using a secure link. You should also make sure your accountant will delete or destroy the files after your return is submitted.

[Editor's note: The number of identity theft complaints to the FTC between 2005 and 2009 was not originally attributed to the Scripps Howard News Service. That statistic came from a Scripps analysis of 1.4 million complaints to the FTC that the news service obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.]

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