STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Be careful of scams and schemes when preparing to file taxes this season, the Internal Revenue Service warns.
The tax agency is asking consumers to properly secure computers, tablets, and phones, as having this solid cybersecurity protection and scam recognition is vital to reduce the threat of identity theft inside and outside the tax system.
According to the IRS, it works closely with Security Summit, a partnership with state tax agencies and the private-sector tax industry, to help protect taxpayer information and defend against identity threats.
But taxpayers and tax professionals can also take steps to help in this effort.
Here are 10 tips to help minimize exposure to fraud and identity theft, according to the IRS.
Safeguard personal data
Provide a Social Security number, for example, only when necessary. Only offer personal information or conduct financial transactions on sites that have been verified as reputable, encrypted websites.
Protect personal information
Treat personal information like cash – don’t hand it out to just anyone, the IRS says. 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.
Use strong passwords
The IRS says to use a password phrase or series of words that will be easy for you to remember. Use at least 10 characters, but 12 is ideal for most home users. Mix letters, numbers and special characters. Try to be unpredictable — so that means you shouldn’t use names, birthdates or common words. Don’t use the same password for many accounts and avoid sharing them. Keep passwords in a secure place or use password management tools.
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.
Whenever it is an option for a password-protected account, users should also opt for a multi-factor authentication process. Multi-factor authentication is critical to protecting your password.
Avoid phishing scams
The easiest way for criminals to steal sensitive data is simply to ask for it.
The IRS urges people to learn to recognize phishing emails, calls or texts that pose as familiar organizations such as banks, credit card companies or even the IRS. Keep sensitive data safe and:
- Be aware that an unsolicited email with a request to download an attachment or click on a URL could appear to come from someone that you know like a friend, work colleague or tax professional if their email has been spoofed or compromised.
- 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.
- 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. The download most likely will install some type of malware. Reputable security software companies do not advertise in this manner.
Use security software
An anti-virus program should provide protection from viruses, Trojans, spyware and adware. The IRS urges everyone to use an anti-virus program and always keep it up to date. Set security software to update automatically so it can be updated as threats emerge.
Educate those less experienced about online safety
Children and those with less online experience may not be fully aware of the perils of opening suspicious web pages, emails or documents. Teens and younger users can put themselves at risk by leaving a trail of personal information for con artists to follow, according to the IRS.
Back up files
No system is completely secure. Copy important files, including federal and state tax returns, onto removable discs or back-up drives and cloud storage. Store discs, drives and any paper copies in secure, locked locations, as well.
Know the risk of public Wi-Fi
Connection to public Wi-Fi is convenient and often free, but it may not be safe, the IRS states. Hackers and cybercriminals can easily steal personal information from these networks. Always use a virtual private network when connecting to public Wi-Fi.
Review ID Theft Central
This is designed to improve online access to information on identity theft, it serves taxpayers, tax professionals and businesses.
The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message, or social media to request personal or financial information. Generally, the tax agency will first mail a paper bill to a person who owes taxes. In some special situations, the IRS will call or come to a home or business.
The deadline to file a 2021 tax return and pay any tax owed is Monday, April 18. By law, Washington, D.C., holidays impact tax deadlines for everyone in the same way that federal holidays do. The due date is April 18 instead of April 15, because of the Emancipation Day holiday in the District of Columbia.
The IRS is encouraging everyone to have all the information they need in hand to make sure they file a complete and accurate return. Having an accurate tax return can avoid processing delays, refund delays and later IRS notices.
The IRS expects most individuals to file their returns electronically. Filing electronically and choosing direct deposit is the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund.
Most refunds are issued in less than 21 days, but some tax returns require additional review and may take longer to process than others. This may be necessary when a return has errors, is incomplete or is affected by identity theft or fraud.
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