This year tax refunds will be as big as ever and going to millions of taxpayers. Accordingly, tax refund thieves are out in full force. Every day the IRS is warning people about phone and W-2 scams. Measures to reduce tax-related identity theft and refund fraud are critical and the IRS has indicated that they could cause individual delays to tax refund processing; still they expect to issue at least nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days. We can all agree that the IRS getting refunds issued quickly is important and their zealous commitment to protecting data is more than vital, it is reassuring. But, what should you know AND do to keep your data safe.
If you stop and think about it, filing your tax return - the forms that contain your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, and maybe even your banking information, could be one of the riskiest things you do. All that data in one place is the Holy Grail for cybercriminals. The good news, the IRS joined with the tax software industry, tax preparation firms, payroll firms, tax financial product processors, and state tax administrators to fight these criminals. As a member of the Security Summit, I attend meetings and conference calls on a regular basis to discuss how we - the industry - can best protect American taxpayers. The great news, tax pros are legally required to keep the data they collect to prepare your tax return confidential and safe or they face monetary and criminal penalties. And the best news, one of the biggest takeaways from these meetings is that some of the best measures are the easiest ones to implement.
Now that you know, here are a few fast and useful tips, whether you are a brave soul who is going it alone or you have a trusted tax pro that is going to help you navigate the tax world, to help you keep your tax data safe.
Recognize risky behavior. Don't click what you don't know; click bait, phishing emails, and links can appear to come from the IRS, your credit card company, family member, or other trusted source. Every method or attempt has the same purpose; a cybercriminal is hoping you give them the information, or a way to get to it, they need to steal your identity, your money, or other personal information, such as your tax refund. So rule one is think before you click, rule two is almost as easy.
Lock it up. Password protect - everything. Have a password plan, so you use different passwords for different sites. Passwords, which are complex and that you change regularly, can protect you from many of the typical cyberattacks. Strong passwords are great when you access other secure sites, but you need to be vigilant at home as well. Your taxes contain all your valuable data, so security is even more critical.
Use protection. Keep your firewall on, use anti-virus and software security, and keep it up to date. Experts agree, potential risks are mitigated when up-to-date firewalls, malware, and encryption are part of your computer security plan. Another step, which many people don't take, is to password encrypt or password-protect files that contain personal information. However, online files aren't the only risk.
Protect non-computer information. Your paper-based files, bank statements, passport, and credit card statements provide ample opportunity for identity-thieves. Shred your mail, keep important documents in a safe place, and even be cognizant when you talking about your personal information in public. A united approach between you the people you do business with helps combat identity theft and all cybercrime.
If a tax pro is filing your return, they are required to protect your information, from the moment your dump your shoebox on their desk to the actual filing of your return. Ask them and make sure they are using safe tax processes before you engage them. If you are preparing your tax return yourself, whether online or on your computer, use a trusted software brand. Also, use strong passwords, secure websites, and remember that the IRS will not email, text, or call you about your return as a first point of contact. Your personal information and your reputation are the most valuable assets. Practicing safe tax will help protect you, your tax refund, and all your financial date, which keeps your money in your pocket.