Top 10 Tips to Protect Your Financial and Tax Information
Be wary of aggressive IRS phone scams -- Scammers are able to alter caller I.D. numbers to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. They often leave "urgent" callback requests or threaten arrest. Remember that the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, nor demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe. Another telltale sign is if you are asked to pay with a prepaid debit card. Protect yourself and do not give our personal information over the phone.
Avoid phishing attempts – Never reply to emails, texts or pop-up messages asking for your personal, tax or financial information. One common trick by criminals is to impersonate a business such as your financial institution, tax software provider or the IRS, asking you to update your account and providing a link. Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust. Go directly to the organization’s website.
And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you see an email that says ‘You won a free cruise’ or ‘The IRS has a refund waiting for you,’ odds are high that it is a phishing attempt looking to get your personal information.
Protect your computer -- Scammers, hackers and identity thieves are looking to steal your personal information – and your money. But there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourself, like keeping your computer software up-to-date, using security software and looking for the “S” for encrypted “https” websites when shopping or banking online. This helps ensure your computer is secure when it comes time to file your taxes.
Use Strong Passwords – New password standards to access tax software will require a minimum of eight characters with upper case, lower case, alpha, numerical and special 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.
Use secure wireless networks – A wireless (“Wi-Fi”) network sends a signal through the air that allows you to connect to the internet. If your home or business wi-fi is unsecured it also allows any computer within range to access your wireless and steal information from your computer. Always encrypt your wireless. And if you are using public Wi-Fi, tax or financial Information you send though websites or mobile apps may be accessed by someone else. If a public Wi-Fi hotspot does not require a password, it probably is not secure.
Review your statements & accounts -- Read your credit card, banking and health statements carefully and often. Look into even small changes that seem suspicious or claims that are unfamiliar to you. Review your annual Social Security income statement for excessive income reported. You can sign up for an electronic account at www.SSA.gov.
Review your credit report annually -- Review each of your three credit reports at least once a year. Visit www.annualcreditreport.comto get your free reports. If you are an identity theft victim, you need contact only one of the three to request a fraud alert, which will protect your credit from unverified access for at least 90 days. If you want even stronger protections, a credit freeze lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. You must contact each of the three credit bureaus to establish a credit freeze.
Don’t overshare on social media – Do a web search of your name and review the results. Mostly likely, the results while turn up your past addresses, the names of people living in the household, as well social media accounts and your photographs. All of these items are valuable to identity thieves. Even a social media post boasting of a new car can help thieves bypass security verification questions that depend on financial data that only you should know. Think before you post!
Secure your tax returns and remember to shred. Your federal and state tax forms are important financial documents you may need for many reasons. Print out a copy and keep in a safe place like a locked cabinet. Make an electronic copy in a safe spot as well. If you store sensitive tax and financial records on your computer, use a file encryption program to add an additional layer of security should your computer be compromised. And before you dispose of any old documents or financial information, be sure to shred. Never toss documents with your personally identifiable information, especially your social security number, in the trash.
Review and respond to all 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.
To learn additional steps you can take to protect your personal and financial data, visit www.irs.gov/identitytheft. You also can read Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers.