Identity theft is a challenge we all face — as individuals, businesses, organizations and government agencies.
The IRS says it’s making progress against tax-related identity theft using an aggressive strategy of prevention, detection and victim assistance. In fact, the agency notes that this is one of its highest priorities.
Tax-related identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to file a tax return and then claims a fraudulent refund. If you become a victim, the IRS says it’s committed to helping you resolve your case as quickly as possible.
Identity theft safeguards to protect taxpayers
What are the ways that the federal government, the states and private industry are working to identify and apply safeguards to better protect taxpayers and fight identity theft? IRS, representatives of the software industry, tax preparation firms, payroll and tax financial product processors, as well as state tax administrators are joining together to combat identity theft. They’re looking into enhanced authentication procedures, improved information sharing, heightened cybersecurity and greater education and outreach to the public.
What can you do to make your personal, financial and tax data safer?
- Always use security software with firewall and antivirus protection. Make sure the security software is always turned on and can automatically update.
- Encrypt sensitive files such as tax records that you store on your computer.
- Use strong, unique passwords for each account.
- Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations like your bank, credit card company and even the IRS. Don’t click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
- Protect your personal data. Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card.
- Make sure your tax records are secure, whether print or electronic.
- Shop only at reputable online retailers.
Advice for businesses
Companies also have to be careful with identity protection:
- As a business, you can create messages urging employees, clients and customers to protect data and beware of phishing emails, as this is the most common tactic used by criminals to steal data.
- Educate your payroll and human resources employees about dangerous phishing scams. Indeed, some scams trick payroll and HR employees into sharing employee wage and income information by posing as a company executive.
- Review and update your security plan. IRS Publication 4557, Safeguarding Taxpayer Data, has helpful recommendations.
Such steps have helped the decline of identity theft indicators, says the IRS, which announced that key indicators of identity theft dropped for the second year in a row. In fact, since 2015, the number of tax-related identity theft victims has fallen by almost two-thirds, and billions of dollars of taxpayer refunds have been protected. But you still have to be careful!
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