Originally posted on https://windes.com/tax_alerts/a-personal-information-security-guide-for-taxpayers/
The IRS is constantly urging taxpayers to make sure their financial, tax, and personal information are secure and protected. This is because cybercriminals are proficient at using various scams to steal money and information. Anyone is a potential victim, and taxpayers are especially vulnerable at tax time. It is important for taxpayers to be vigilant concerning the safeguarding of personal information.
Is It Really The IRS?
The IRS assures taxpayers that it will never initiate any form of contact via unusual methods. These include text messages, social media messages, and emails. The IRS will also never use any of these channels to request any financial or personal information. Unfortunately, many scammers now pretend to be the IRS in order to steal data. How do you know whether someone knocking on your door or calling your phone is from the IRS? The good news is that there are guides available with ways to know whether the caller is genuine.
The IRS is now working in conjunction with an organization called the Security Summit. The aim is to protect taxpayers’ information while defending them against possible identity theft. However, both tax professionals and taxpayers alike should take appropriate steps to support this effort.
Protecting Your Personal Information
Your personal information security is paramount. Think of your personal data as if it were cash. You do not just give the information to anybody. Your credit card number, your bank account details, and your Social Security Number need protection. Scammers can even use the numbers of your utility accounts to steal your identity or money. If you ever receive a request asking for personal details, think carefully first before handing it over. Can you be certain the request is a genuine one? Unfortunately, scammers work hard to appear legitimate and trustworthy. Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Assume the possibility of a scam until you are certain it is not.
Avoiding Phishing Scams
One simple way for a criminal to steal your sensitive information is just to ask you for it. The criminal does this in the form of phishing texts, calls or e-mails. Phishing means that criminals pose as a familiar organization. This could be your bank, your credit card company, or the IRS. Usually, the ruse will urge you to provide your passwords, credit card numbers, bank account details, or other sensitive data.
You may also receive emails requesting you to click a URL or download attachments. These may look like they have been sent by somebody you know, such as a colleague or friend. However, it is very possible the scammers have hacked his or her email. Never assume that pop-up advertisements, emails or Internet advertisements are from a reputable company. When an offer or ad appears too impressive, take the time to check the company that is behind it. Enter the product or company name into your search engine along with “scam,” “complaint,” or “review.” This should help you to decide if the offer is genuine.
The IRS also urges taxpayers to avoid downloading any software marketed “for security purposes” from pop-ups. One commonly seen pop-up tells you that its software has found a virus on your computer. You should not pay any attention to it. That sort of download usually installs malware on your PC. No trustworthy security software company will advertise in such a way. You can find out more details about how to report IRS-related phishing scams on the IRS website. Visit IRS.gov and search for “Report Phishing.”
Safeguard Your Personal Data Online Every Day
You must protect your Social Security Number at all times. Never give it out to anyone unless it is strictly necessary. If you need to give personal information, make sure the website has encryptions and is reputable. When you bank or shop online, make sure the site is using encryption. The web address should have “https” at its beginning and “https” on each site page.
Choose Strong Passwords
It stands to reason that if you choose a long password, it will be harder to work out. A password of at least 10 characters, with a mix of special characters, numbers, and letters is recommended. Do not be predictable by using common words, birth dates, or names. Avoid using a single password for several accounts. Also, never share your passwords by email, in texts or by telephone. If possible, use passphrases instead of passwords. No legitimate company will send you a message asking for your password. If you get a message asking for your password, it is most likely a scam. Use the latest password management software to store your passwords or keep them securely in a safe place.
You should also set encryption and password protection for your wireless networks. When your business or home Wi-Fi is not secure, all computers that are within its range can access it. This allows criminals to steal information from any connected device.
Using Security Software
You should download anti-malware programs for protection from adware, spyware, Trojans, and viruses. The IRS tells people, and especially tax professionals, to use anti-malware programs. It is important to keep these programs updated. Set the security software for automatic updates to provide protection any newly emerged threats. If you also get encryption software, your data will also be well protected from identity thieves or hackers. Make sure you educate your children about potential threats of opening any suspicious documents, emails or web pages.
Back Up Your Files
Unfortunately, no system can ever be 100% secure. You should always copy all your important files, such as state and federal tax returns, to backup drives or removable discs. You may need access to them in the future for college applications, for financial aid, or for home loans.
If you follow these steps, it will be easier to carry out your individual tax return preparation next year. Remember to always use file encryption programs when storing sensitive financial and tax records on your PC. This will ensure an extra security layer for your protection.
For more information about this article, please contact our tax professionals at [email protected] or toll free at (844) 252-7337.