This is the time of the year when there is abundant flow of personal and financial data in the form of photocopies and over the internet. If criminals intercept just one 16A form or dupe someone into providing that input, they gain a wealth of information that can be used for identity theft.
Additionally, phishers can send emails or text messages asking you to update your information by directing you to a false website that resembles the legitimate one. Lesser sophisticated techniques include posing as bank representatives, stealing wallets, or even rummaging through dustbins. Most people aren’t aware that a thief can use sensitive information such as your PAN to claim a fraudulent tax refund, open fraudulent credit cards or loans or commit other criminal acts.
Protect what’s yours
Following a few simple steps can safeguard your identity. To begin with, keep a regular tab on your form 26AS as this is a consolidated record of all the tax payments and receipts. Any irregular change in the same, not tallying with the expected tax deductions or receipts, needs to be noted. If you suspect an identity theft, you need to report the same to the Income-Tax department immediately.
Store all your tax documents in a secure place such as a safe or a locking file cabinet until you need them. Don’t forget and leave them in your car or other easily accessible places. Similarly, don’t keep even photocopies of your PAN card lying around. The original card is not required for identity theft; photocopies suffice for opening bank accounts, obtaining a new credit card, and so on.
This is also why you should provide PAN details only to authorised people and when needed. Always use a secure method to deliver your documents.
If you’re using tax apps, some of them require you to take photos of Form 16A. Delete those images after use and password-protect your smartphone at all times. Avoid using a public wifi network to e-file taxes. Such networks are especially vulnerable as they are not secured or encrypted and sophisticated fraudsters can infiltrate the same with ease. Don’t follow links in emails or text messages that falsely claim to be from the Income-Tax department. Stick to typing ‘incometaxindia.gov.in’ directly into a browser to avoid spurious links.
Keep operating systems and all computer protection software up to date to avoid phishing. Remember to wipe your hard-drive clean before disposing computers or laptops. Finally, don’t give out personal information over the phone, through mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.
Detect it early
A fraudster can eventually use tax-related information such as the PAN number in opening bank accounts or getting a line of credit. A valuable instrument that can be used to detect any such event is your Credit Information Report. Any major, unexpected, changes in your scores could signal identity theft.
This report can be got from any established credit bureau. In it, look for credit cards and other loan accounts and compare it with known liabilities. The past enquiries section of the credit report indicates if someone is attempting to obtain new loans using your identity.