SOURCE: Europ Assistance USA

March 20, 2008 11:42 ET

Europ Assistance USA Says Secure Your Most Important Asset

Tips to Help You Protect Your Identity This Tax Season

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - March 20, 2008) - More and more Americans are filing their taxes with the help of the Internet. In fact, the IRS reported receiving 78 million tax returns by email in 2007, just over half of the 138 million individual income tax returns filed last year. While this trend is sure to continue, Americans need to be aware of the vulnerability of their most important asset this tax season -- their identity.

Instances of identity theft continue to affect millions of American families. In 2007 alone, the crime affected 8.4 million people nationwide, costing each an average loss of $5,720 and approximately 25 hours in resolution time, according to a Javelin Strategy & Research Survey. Due to the increasing amount of sensitive information tax payers are entering online, tax-related identity theft crimes have also grown in number. By storing and sharing personal and often unprotected data online, thieves can easily capture and jeopardize private information.

As last minute tax payers rush to complete this year's filings, Europ Assistance USA, the professional ally for people in crisis or distress, reminds Americans to take the proper precautions regarding filing, storing and transporting tax and income documents to ensure the safety of personal information.

"From the mailbox to our computers, our Social Security numbers, bank accounts, and other personal information is widely shared and more easily accessible this time of year," said Guillaume Deybach, identity theft expert and CEO of Europ Assistance, USA. "While we encourage Americans to remain vigilant with this information throughout the year, extra precautions need to be taken during tax season to mitigate the risk of identity theft."

The team of ID theft experts at Europ Assistance USA reminds taxpayers to take the following precautions this tax season:

Be Smart, Be Safe

--  If you plan on filing electronically, visit the IRS site for a list of
    credible online tax filing service providers. http://www.irs.gov/
--  Make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date. Phishing emails can
    contain software that may harm your computer or track your activities
    online without your knowledge.
--  Check the security of websites you use to process electronic payments
    for direct deposit refunds. Certain indicators show that the site is
    secure, such as a lock icon on the browser's status bar or URL that begins
    with "https:" -- the "s" stands for "secure."
--  Use atypical passwords when registering to download tax forms from
    employers. For example, avoid using your birthday or mother's maiden name.
--  Password protect your personal information on electronic filing sites.
--  Make sure to disable peer-to-peer file-sharing programs.
--  Try to avoid emailing personal or financial information. If you must
    email tax documents, encrypt them first.
--  Make sure not to save passwords in web browsers when logging in to
    bank accounts or other sources that store personal information.
--  Avoid storing bank account numbers or Social Security numbers on your
    computer.
    

Arm Yourself

--  The IRS does not email taxpayers.  If you receive an email that
    appears to be from the IRS, do not respond, as it is likely a scam.
--  The IRS also does not call taxpayers. To safeguard your identity,
    avoid providing your personal information to callers claiming to represent
    the IRS.
    

Store Securely

--  Permanently delete unsecured documents containing personal information
    used to prepare tax returns and shred paper documents.
--  If photocopying financial documents, make sure the photocopier doesn't
    store images in its memory.
--  Opt to have any tax refund electronically deposited into a bank
    account rather than having a refund check sit in your mailbox.
    

Be Your Own Postman

--  Avoid leaving tax documents in your mailbox for pick-up. Instead, mail
    them from a U.S. Post Office. Also, don't keep documents in your car or
    sitting on your desk for any length of time.
--  Send your documents 'Certified Mail, Return Receipt' to guarantee they
    arrived and were signed for.
--  If you owe money to the IRS, consider filing and paying online instead
    of sending a check with your social security number written on it.
    

About Europ Assistance USA

Europ Assistance USA, headquartered in Washington, DC, is a part of the multinational Europ Assistance Group and its network of 71 companies, 5,000 employees and more than 850,000 service providers and medical personnel offering assistance services in 208 countries and territories around the globe. For close to half a century, the group has tailored solutions for assisting people wherever they may be and helping them respond to the unexpected throughout their daily lives. Services include emergency medical transportation, medical referrals, case monitoring claims management, identity theft resolution and data breach response services. Twenty-four hours a day at 34 assistance centers worldwide, multilingual assistance coordinators answer more than two calls per second and handle one assistance case every two seconds. www.europassistance-usa.com

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