To kick off National Tax Security Awareness Week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Security Summit warn taxpayers and tax professionals to be mindful of events that can increase their exposure to scams or tax-related identity theft. The combination of holiday shopping, the upcoming tax season, and the COVID-19 pandemic create additional opportunities for criminals to steal sensitive personal or financial information. Be aware and take extra care while shopping online or viewing emails and texts.
“Don’t let this be the most wonderful time of the year for identity thieves,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “The approach of the holidays and tax season increases risk for taxpayers and opportunities for criminals. We urge people to be extra careful with their personal and financial information during this period while shopping online or getting suspicious emails or text. Taking a few simple steps can keep people from becoming victims of identity theft and protect their sensitive personal information needed for tax returns and refunds.”
10 Steps to Protect Yourself During The Holidays
The IRS and Security Summit put together a list of 10 basic steps to help protect your personal and financial information during the holidays and upcoming tax season:
- Don’t forget to use security software for computers, tablets, and mobile phones – and keep it updated. Protect electronic devices of family members, especially teens and young children.
- Make sure anti-virus software for computers has a feature to stop malware, and there is a firewall enabled that can prevent intrusions.
- Phishing scams – like imposter emails, calls, and texts — are the No. 1 way thieves steal personal data. Don’t open links or attachments on suspicious emails. This year, fraud scams related to COVID-19, Economic Impact Payments, and other tax law changes are common.
- Use strong and unique passwords for online accounts. Use a phrase or series of words that can be easily remembered or use a password manager.
- Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. Many email providers and social media sites offer this feature. It helps prevent thieves from easily hacking accounts.
- Shop at sites where the web address begins with “https” – the “s” is for secure communications over the computer network. Also, look for the “padlock” icon in the browser window.
- Don’t shop on unsecured public Wi-Fi in places like a mall. Remember, thieves can eavesdrop.
- At home, secure home Wi-Fis with a password. With more homes connected to the web, secured systems become more important, from wireless printers, wireless door locks to wireless thermometers. These can be access points for identity thieves.
- Back up files on computers and mobile phones. A cloud service or an external hard drive can be used to copy information from computers or phones – providing an important place to recover financial or tax data.
- Working from home? Consider creating a virtual private network (VPN) to securely connect to your workplace.
Common Warning Signs & Additional Places For Information
Identity thieves try to look like government agencies and others in the tax community by emailing or texting about tax refunds, stimulus payments, and other items. Remember, the IRS will never call or send unexpected texts or emails about a refund.
Additional information regarding these common scams is available at IRS Tax Tip: Common tax scams and tips to help taxpayers avoid them. The IRS and Security Summit also provide YouTube videos on security steps to help you stay safe. The videos can be viewed or downloaded at Easy Steps to Protect Your Computer and Phone and Here’s How to Avoid IRS Text Message Scams.
Don’t forget to implement these safety measures for your cell phone. Thieves have become more adept at compromising mobile phones. You can check out security recommendations for your specific mobile phone by reviewing the Federal Communications Commission’s Smartphone Security Checker. Since phones are used for shopping and even for doing taxes, remember to make sure phones and tablets are just as secure as computers.
Unfortunately, there are also numerous scams related to COVID-19 where thieves try to gain sensitive personal or financial information. You can keep up with the latest scam information and report COVID-related scams by visiting the Federal Trade Commission website.