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The beginning of tax season also signals the start of an ominous time of the year. Cybercriminals are working overtime, launching scams to steal personal information  

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8 Tips to Safeguard Your Identity this Tax Season

May 19, 2017

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The beginning of tax season also signals the start of an ominous time of the year. Cybercriminals are working overtime, launching scams to steal personal information from hardworking Americans and use the ill-gotten gains to file fraudulent tax returns. To stop scammers in their tracks and help you protect your identity, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers the following tips.

  1. Understand and use security software on your computer. Security software helps protect your computer against prevalent online digital threats. Often computer operating systems include security software, or you can access free security software from well-known companies or Internet providers. Other security options may have an annual licensing fee and offer more features. Essential tools include a firewall, virus/malware protection and file encryption if you store sensitive financial/tax documents on your computer. Do not buy security software offered as an unexpected pop-up ad on your computer or email! It’s likely from a scammer.
  2. Allow security software to update automatically. Set your security software to update automatically to keep pace with malware – malicious software – that is constantly evolving.
  3. Look for the S to identify encrypted websites. When shopping or banking online, always check to ensure the site you are visiting uses encryption to protect your information. Look for httpshttp address. Additionally, make sure the https address carries through on all pages, not just the sign-on page.
  4. Use strong passwords. Use passwords of eight or more characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use your name, birthdate or common words. Don’t use the same password for several accounts. Keep your password list in a secure place or use a password manager. Don’t share your password with anyone. Calls, texts or emails pretending to be from legitimate companies or the IRS asking you to update your accounts or seeking personal financial information are generally scams.
  5. Secure your wireless network. If your home or business Wi-Fi network is unsecured, any computer within range can access it and attempt to steal information from your computer. Criminals can also use your wireless network to send spam or commit crimes that could be traced back to your account. Always encrypt your wireless network. Generally, you must turn on this feature and create a password.
  6. Be cautious when using public wireless networks. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are convenient but not always secure. When using them, tax or financial Information you send though websites or mobile apps could be accessed by someone else. If a public Wi-Fi hotspot does not require a password, it probably is not secure. If you are transmitting sensitive information, make sure the web address you are using begins with https.
  7. Avoid phishing attempts and malware to protect your personal data. Never reply to emails, texts or pop-up messages asking for your personal, tax or financial information. One common trick criminals use is to impersonate a business such as your financial institution, tax software provider or the IRS, asking you to update your account by clicking on a link. Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust. Instead, go directly to the organization’s website by typing the address into your browser. Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through unsecured channels – make sure the web address begins with https.

    Here are a few simple steps to protect yourself:

    • Avoid suspicious phishing emails that appear to be from the IRS or other companies asking you to update or verify your accounts; do not click on links, go directly to websites instead
    • Avoid malware by not opening attachments in emails unless you know who the sender is and what the email attachments contain
    • Download and install software only from websites you know and trust
    • Use security software to block pop-up ads, which can contain viruses
    • Ensure your family understands safe online and computer habits
  8. Make identity protection a part of your routine. Read your credit card and banking statements carefully and often – watch for even the smallest charge that appears suspicious.
    • Review and respond to all written notices and correspondence from the IRS. Warning signs of tax-related identity theft can include IRS notices about tax returns you did not file, income you did not receive or employers you’ve never heard of or where you’ve never worked.
    • Review each of your three credit reports at least once a year. Visit annualcreditreport.com to get your free reports.
    • Review your annual Social Security income statement for excessive income reported. You can sign up for an electronic account at www.SSA.gov
    • Read your health insurance statements; look for claims you never filed or medical care you never received.
    • Shred any documents with personal and financial information. Never toss documents with your personally identifiable information, especially your Social Security Number, in the trash.
    • If you receive any routine federal deposit such as Social Security or Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, you probably receive them electronically. You can use the same direct deposit process for your federal and state tax refunds. IRS direct deposit is safe and secure and places your tax refund directly into the financial account of your choice.

Remember, your credit card company, bank nor the IRS will send you emails asking you to update sensitive personal and financial information such as your account number.