Tax-Related Identity Theft
With so many individuals sending personal information to the IRS, whether by e-filing or paper filing, the identity thieves are coming out to play. Typically, tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your Social Security number to file a tax return, claiming a fraudulent refund. But it’s not just a matter of protecting that SSN (although you should definitely do that); April is prime time for phishing scams and fraud, and the IRS already has a list of known schemes scammers use to compromise your identity and tax return/refund.
These scams don’t just affect you: fraudulent returns are a hassle for the IRS as well. That’s why the prevention and detection of fraud is one of their highest priorities, and why they provide victim assistance. If you think you’ve been a victim of tax-related identity theft, check out this IRS article so you can begin taking steps to re-secure your identity.
How to Protect Yourself
The main thing to remember anytime you’re reporting personal information, whether it’s to the IRS, your doctor, or even when you’re shopping online, is always to remain vigilant against illegitimate sources. Just as you wouldn’t hand over all of your personal info to a stranger on the street, you don’t want to do so online either. So here are a few tips for keeping your identity secure when you e-file this year:
- If the IRS emails you, it isn’t the IRS. The official IRS will contact you if there are any issues with your return via snail mail. If you do get a suspicious email claiming to be the IRS, forward that email (without opening it, if you can) to email@example.com.
- If the IRS asks for your credit card information or PIN by email, text message, or over the phone, it isn’t the IRS. Most of the time, the IRS doesn’t even accept credit cards for payments, only checks or Electronic Funds Withdrawals.
- Avoid opening any links or attachments in emails you receive from unfamiliar sources and be wary of ones from known sources. Basically, don’t open anything sent to you in an email unless you’re 100% sure that it’s legitimate.
- When using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, avoid logging into anything with sensitive information because others using the network could hack into your credentials or data.
- Always logout of sensitive sites and services when you’re finished, don’t just close the webpage. Additionally, while it may be convenient to have your browser remember your login credentials, this also makes it easy for hackers to enter your account.
- When handling sensitive information, don’t use the same computer your kids use. Many phishing scams are targeted at kid-oriented sites and services, so it’s much more likely the computer they’re playing on has been compromised in some way.
- Take extra security measures: it’s always better to be over-protected than to risk exposing your identity online.
- Use strong, unique passwords, and if you think you might forget them, store them in a safe place away from your computer.
- And before you start entering any sensitive data, check for the padlock icon in front of HTTPS (instead of HTTP) in your web address bar. This indicates the site you’re using is secure and encrypted, making your information safer.
- Limit your exposure to threats with security tools like antivirus software, and, above all, be skeptical. As it’s been proven time and time again, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
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