Most Wayne State folks have now received their W2 forms and are probably putting off thinking about submitting their income tax returns, so now is the time to start worrying about all the things that could go wrong.
As most readers will remember, Wayne State was one of a number of universities whose employees were hit with fraudulent returns last year. This happens when someone illegally files in your place, fiddling with the numbers so that they will get a refund. Generally speaking, when this happens you are not on the hook, but it can be a pain in the neck to get it sorted out and it will probably interfere with your filing for several years afterwards, so it’s a good idea to take actions that will reduce the likelihood of being a victim.
There is a limit to what you can do, but I’ve collected all the key safety steps here — the major step you can take is to increase your vigilance online. Do not share your social security number (which means it should never appear in an email or anywhere else other than where it is legally required [such as on your tax return]). And although your bank needs to know it, there is no reason it should appear on any bank website or on any paperwork you receive through the mail from your bank. Of course, it will appear in correspondence with the government (such as a dreaded letter from the IRS or correspondence with the state or city about taxes owed or a happy letter about refunds due).
The most effective positive action you can take is to file as early as possible (although a friend of mine posted on their Facebook page a couple of days ago that someone had already filed in their place). I realize it’s as American as apple pie to put it off till the evening of April 14, but it is a good defensive strategy to file really early.
Additionally, it is extremely important you do not let yourself get phished. Phishing (luring victims in with realistic-looking emails) is the most widely used weapon in identity theft. In fact, we will be doing one (or perhaps more) anti-phishing training sessions over the next couple of weeks. Our Chief Security Officer, Kevin Hayes, and I, your Chief Privacy Officer, have a roadshow we’ll be starting shortly. The first presentation will be on Feb. 10 at 1 p.m. in Bernath Auditorium. We’ll explain how phishing works and what you can do to fight back.