[-- Read Time: 3 mins --]

Looking for ways to keep your identity safe? Scratch LifeLock off your list. The Federal Trade Commission is accusing them of violating their 2010 settlement by once again falsely advertising their level of protection and failing to keep customer records safe. Luckily, purchasing the help of an identity protection service isn’t required to stay safe. Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself.

Keep your personal information private

Your social security card doesn’t need to go everywhere with you. Cut your risk by leaving it at home.  The same rule applies to your birth certificate and passport. Be as stingy as possible with your personal information and only share it when necessary with someone you trust. You can also stay safe by:

• Installing anti-virus and anti-spam software on your computer
• Changing your internet passwords every few months
• Checking your credit report annually
• Shredding unwanted credit card and bank statements

Be aware of what’s going on in the world

Familiarize yourself with common scams so you know what clues to lookout for. It might jog your memory if you find yourself in a similar situation.

One of the most popular scams involves criminals impersonating IRS agents demanding payment. The IRS doesn’t initiate contact by phone, fax, email or social media. If the IRS needs to reach you, they will send a letter through the United States Postal Service. For more information on common tax schemes, check out our post, “6 scams that made the IRS Dirty Dozen”.

Report identity theft to the proper authorities

Finding out you’ve been a victim of identity theft can make you feel defenseless but it doesn’t have to be that way. Get your life back by taking the following steps.

1. Call the company where the theft occurred and let them know your identity was stolen. Ask them to close or freeze your account to prevent any new charges from appearing on your billing statement.
2. Get a copy of your credit report and place a fraud alert on your accounts. Reviewing copies of your credit report will help you pinpoint any unfamiliar information while fraud alerts make it harder for someone to open a new account in your name.
3. Complete an Identity Theft Affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission.  Their website provides a Complaint Assistant to guide you through the process.
4. File a police report. When you go to the precinct, bring your FTC affidavit, a state issued ID and any evidence you have regarding your identity theft.

Inform the IRS

After you receive your police report, you will need to file Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit with the IRS.

Identity theft doesn’t exclude you from your taxpayer duties. You are still required to file and pay any balances due by the April 15th deadline.

Look out for IRS notices in the mail

Once your identity has been verified, the IRS will send a letter in the mail letting you know that they’re monitoring your account.

Get an Identity Protect PIN

Taxpayers who have been victims of identity theft will be issued an IP PIN from the IRS to use on their tax return. This specially assigned PIN helps verify your identity and prevent future fraudulent returns. IP PIN’s are usually sent in the mail every December.

Don’t let every data breach send you into panic mode

Data breaches occur when confidential information is accessed by unauthorized sources. They don’t always lead to identity theft and aren’t always tax-related. Cheaters on Ashley Madison recently got caught with their pants down when hacker group The Impact Team threatened to expose user profiles, photos, messages and other personal business if the site wasn’t taken down. The goal was to show that Ashley Madison doesn’t completely remove user information even though they charge customers to delete their accounts.  If you learn that your information was compromised in a data breach, find out what has been leaked and what the company is doing to resolve the issue. This will help you decide what steps you need to take next.