The IRS has begun a series of publications on their website to warn taxpayers of potential tax-related identity theft opportunities, and measures that may be taken to avoid headache for taxpayers going forward. They state that “the combination of the holiday shopping, the approaching filing season and more of us working remotely puts people at risk.” They have recommend taking the following steps:
- Don’t forget to use security software for computers and mobile phones – and keep it updated.
- Make sure purchased anti-virus software has a feature to stop malware, and there is a firewall 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 and the Economic Impact Payment 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 prevents 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 thermostats. 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.
Along with publishing the tips above, the IRS has decided it will allow taxpayers to voluntarily opt in to the IP PIN program beginning in 2021. This program was previously only available to victims of identity theft. To enroll, you must be able to pass a rigorous self-verification of your identity on their website. You then receive the PIN immediately on-screen. This PIN number must be provided when filing your tax return, so don’t forget to provide it to your tax preparer when choosing to enroll in this program. The PIN number is to be renewed annually, with the option of opting out in the future, if desired.
With the rise of identity theft, keeping our clients’ information secure is of utmost importance to us. We utilize the client portal to help keep your documents secure. With the year that we’ve had, many of you have made the move to this method of transmission for documents and tax returns. If you are not already signed up, please let us know and we will get you set up. This is the safest way to transmit electronic documents back and forth.
We hope you are already taking some of the above-mentioned measures, and if not, will consider implementing them in your homes and offices. If you are interested in more tips from the IRS on how to protect your information, you may visit https://www.irs.gov/newsroom.
Charlotte McKinney, CPA
- IRS, “National Tax Security Awareness Week opens with warnings to all taxpayers and tax professionals as holidays, 2021 tax season approach” IRS.gov, November 30, 2020, accessed December 3, 2020, https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/national-tax-security-awareness-week-opens-with-warnings-to-all-taxpayers-and-tax-professionals-as-holidays-2021-tax-season-approach.
- IRS, “National Tax Security Awareness Week, Day 3: IRS expands Identity Protection PIN Opt-In Program to taxpayers nationwide” IRS.gov, December 2, 2020, accessed December 3, 2020, https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/national-tax-security-awareness-week-day-3-irs-expands-identity-protection-pin-opt-in-program-to-taxpayers-nationwide.