Posted by Bobbie Stempfley, Acting Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications
It’s that time of the year again when many Americans prepare to file their tax returns. With risk of tax-related identity theft, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is taking a wide variety of steps to combat identity theft and refund fraud, protect taxpayers and assist victims of identity theft. There are also steps taxpayers can take to protect themselves.
When it comes to your taxes, identity theft often starts outside of the tax administration system. Cyber criminals are constantly on the prowl for Social Security Numbers and other personal information they can exploit for fraudulent purposes. Identity thieves may use a taxpayer’s identity to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund. The legitimate taxpayer may be unaware that anything has happened until they file their return later in the filing season, and it is discovered that two returns have been filed using the same Social Security Number.
When you file your taxes this year, follow these tips from the IRS and Department of Homeland Security’s Stop.Think.Connect. campaign to help safeguard your personal information:
- Don’t give out your personal information unless it is a trusted entity. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media to request personal or financial information.
- Look out for phony messages purporting to be from the IRS and don’t fall victim to tax scams. Exercise caution when opening suspicious email attachments and do not click on unsolicited Web links in email messages. Pay special attention to offers that sound too good to be true such as “guaranteed refunds.” Scammers who are trying to gain access to financial information may use the IRS name or logo in email messages and sites in order to steal identities and assets. Ensure you have typed www.IRS.gov into your Web browser to be certain you have the authentic IRS site.
- Report phishing attempts. All unsolicited emails claiming to be from either the IRS or any other IRS-related components such as the Office of Professional Responsibility or Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) should be reported to firstname.lastname@example.org. See www.IRS.gov/phishing for details.
- Back up your data and store your electronic tax files securely. Last year, nearly 100 million taxpayers opted for the safest, fastest and easiest way to submit their individual tax returns — IRS e-file. While preparing your tax return for electronic filing, make sure to use a strong password to protect the data file. Once your return has been e-filed, burn the file to a CD, DVD or flash drive and remove the personal information from your hard drive. Store the portable device in a secure place, such as a lock box or safe. If you are working with an accountant, ask them what measures they take to protect your information.
- Check privacy policies. Be careful with the information you share online. To learn how to identify a secure website, visit the Federal Trade Commission.
To ensure cybersecurity for our entire society, each of us must play our part. It only takes a single infected computer to potentially infect thousands and perhaps millions of others. Everyone should make basic cybersecurity practices as reflexive as putting on a seatbelt. These basic measures can improve both our individual and our collective safety online.