February 2, 2015 – Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service (PA)
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Tax season is under way and, with its mid-April deadline, scammers and fraudsters will be looking for victims among the thousands of Pennsylvanians who don’t take simple, commonsense precautions to protect their identity.
Mary Bach, chair of the AARP Pennsylvania’s Consumer Issues Task Force, points out the Federal Trade Commission has found almost 60 percent of Americans don’t have locking mailboxes, which leaves them vulnerable to theft of personal information. More than one in five Americans say they never shred personal documents.
“A shredder should be a household appliance in every home, just like a coffee pot or a toaster,” Bach says.
FTC surveys also have found more than half of Americans say they regularly leave at least one personal item in their vehicle, whether it’s a phone or purse, laptop or pay stub, that could be used to steal their identity.
The AARP Task Force also recommends people never give out personal information unless they know who’s asking for it and why they need it. Bach suggests tax filers get a jump on would-be scammers to prevent them from filing a fraudulent return using someone else’s name.
“We advise people to mail their tax returns as early in the tax season as possible, because you’re more vulnerable from the con artist if you wait.”
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network has listed other tips online.
The AARP Foundation also offers free tax preparation by trained volunteers to low-and-moderate income people at its “Tax-Aide” sites around the state. The service is geared to people over 60, but anyone can make an appointment.
Find a location online at aarp.org/taxaide or by calling 1-888-227-7669.