If you're mailing your return, take it to a U.S. post office or a blue postal service mailbox in a busy location. Why? Scammers can easily steal outgoing returns if you put them in your home's curbside mailbox. And although it's rare, thieves sometimes "fish" outgoing returns from USPS mailboxes in deserted locations.
When in doubt, check it out
Whenever you're asked for personal identifiers related to your tax returns, even if by U.S. mail, ensure the request is legitimate before responding. For communications supposedly from the IRS, you can call the IRS hotline at 800-829-1040. For local or state tax offices, check your phone book for a number. Don't rely on any number that's included in the message you receive.
This time of year, scammers sometimes double as tax preparers, offering to do the forms for you or review them for inaccuracies. But what they're really after is all that personal information on your return. Be wary of claims of a faster refund. If you're using a new tax preparer, verify his or her license by emailing email@example.com (the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility) with the full name and address of the person or company. Of course, you'll want to carefully review any prepared return before it's submitted — and make sure it's signed by the preparer as well as you. And make sure it includes his or her ID number.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling. He writes the Scam Alert column for AARP.