Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

The Internal Revenue Service today urged taxpayers to remain vigilant in protecting their personal and tax information. Scams and schemes using the IRS as a lure can take on many variations, so practicing personal information security is vital.

The IRS also reminds taxpayers to help protect themselves against identity theft by reviewing safety tips offered by the Security Summit, a collaborative effort between the IRS, states and the private-sector tax community.

This is the fourth in a series of nine IRS news releases called the Tax Time Guide, designed to help taxpayers navigate common tax issues. This year’s tax-filing deadline is April 17.

Protect Personal Information

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Treat personal information like cash – don’t hand it out to just anyone. Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, bank and even utility account numbers can be used to help steal a person’s money or open new accounts. Every time a taxpayer receives a request for personal information, they should think about whether the request is truly necessary. Scammers will do everything they can to appear trustworthy and legitimate.

Avoid Phishing Scams

The easiest way for criminals to steal sensitive data is simply to ask for it. Learn to recognize phishing emails, calls or texts that pose as familiar organizations such as banks, credit card companies or even the IRS. These ruses generally urge taxpayers to give up sensitive data such as passwords, Social Security numbers and bank account or credit card numbers. They are called phishing scams because they attempt to lure the receiver into taking the bait.

Also, don’t assume internet advertisements, pop-up ads or emails are from reputable companies. If an ad or offer looks too good to be true, take a moment to check out the company behind it. Type the company or product name into a search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”

The IRS urges people to never download “security” software from a pop-up ad. A pervasive ploy is a pop-up ad that indicates it has detected a virus on the computer. Don’t fall for it. The download most likely will install some type of malware on the victim’s computer. Reputable security software companies do not advertise in this manner.

Safeguard Personal Data in Daily, Online Activity

Taxpayers should safeguard their Social Security number. Provide it only when necessary. Occasionally businesses will request it when it is not essential.

Provide personal information over encrypted websites only. Shopping or banking online should be done only on sites that use encryption. People should look for “https” at the beginning of a web address (the “s” stands for secure) and be sure “https” is on every page of the site.

Use Strong Passwords

The longer the password, the tougher it is to crack. Use at least 10 characters; 12 is ideal for most home users. Mix letters, numbers and special characters. Try to be unpredictable – don’t use names, birthdates or common words. Don’t use the same password for many accounts and don’t share them on the phone, in texts or by email. Legitimate companies will not send messages asking for passwords. Receiving such a message probably means it’s a scam. Keep passwords in a secure place.

Set password and encryption protections for wireless networks. If a home or business Wi-Fi is unsecured, it allows any computer within range to access the wireless network and potentially steal information from connected devices. Use Security Software

A good broad-based anti-malware program should provide protection from viruses, Trojans, spyware and adware. The IRS urges people, especially tax professionals, to use an anti-malware program and always keep it up to date.

Set security software to update automatically so it can be upgraded as threats emerge. Also, make sure the security software is “on” at all times. Invest in encryption software to prevent unauthorized access by hackers or identity thieves. Educate children about the threats of opening suspicious web pages, emails or documents.

Back Up Files

No system is completely secure. Copy important files, including federal and state tax returns, onto a removable disc or a back-up drive, and store it in a safe place. Save tax returns and records. Federal and state tax returns are important financial documents. People need them from time to time for home mortgages or college financial aid applications. These steps also can help taxpayers more easily prepare next year’s tax return. If storing sensitive tax and financial records on a personal computer, use a file encryption program to add an additional layer of security.

The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry recently launched a public awareness campaign called Taxes. Security. Together.

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