Identity theft increases during tax season, which is like Christmas for mail thieves. Savvy criminals know that sensitive financial information abounds, and they are on the prowl looking to take advantage this ‘special’ time of year. Whether you prepare and file your taxes online or by mail, it’s important to take precautions and be aware when handling your most private personal and financial information.

IdentityTheftTaxSeasonHere are some tips for how to survive tax season with your identity in tact:

Secure your incoming mail.
Most Americans will receive W-2 forms and other tax documents with sensitive financial information in the mail. If you do not already have a secure locking mailbox, now would be a good time to purchase one. If you are unable to do so at this time, regularly check your mailbox for these forms and contact the IRS for assistance at (800) 829-1040 if you believe your forms should have already arrived.

Secure your computer.
If you choose to prepare or file your taxes using your personal computer, be sure that your PC is protected with updated firewall and secure software systems that contain anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. In addition, you should protect your computer with strong passwords change them often.

Use caution online.
If you are preparing or filing your taxes online, make sure every website you use is encrypted to protect personal information when transmitted. You can tell that a website is secure because the URL will begin with “https://” instead of “http://”.

Secure your outgoing mail.
If you are filing via the mail, make sure you send your completed tax return from a locked mailbox such as the blue USPS drop boxes. For ultimate security, bring your tax return directly to the post office. Do not put your tax return in your home mailbox and put the flag up—this just alerts identity thieves that there is sensitive outgoing mail in your mailbox. Remember, even locking mailboxes like the Mail Boss do not provide security for outgoing mail, as no USPS approved residential locking mailboxes can require the postal carrier to have a key.

Use a paper shredder.
Once you’ve filed your tax return by mail or online, be sure to shred any backup documents with personal or sensitive financial information that you cannot store securely. Don’t forget to use a cross-cut paper shredder.