With the 2022 tax season and the holidays rapidly approaching, the Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the nation’s tax industry today announced a special week focusing attention on taxpayers protecting sensitive financial information against identity thieves.
Working together as the Security Summit, the coalition of the IRS, the states and the nation’s tax community plan the 6th Annual National Tax Security Awareness Week to take place from November 29–December 3. The announcement coincides with International Fraud Awareness Week coming to a conclusion.
The Summit partners warned that taxpayers and tax professionals face a heightened risk in coming months as fraudsters continue to use the pandemic as a way of tricking people into sharing sensitive personal information by email, text message and online. Identity thieves can use that information to try filing tax returns and stealing refunds.
As Security Summit partners have increased their joint defenses against identity theft, including through the Identity Theft Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC), fraudsters have increasingly looked for ways to obtain sensitive personal financial information to help slip past common defenses. That has made tax professionals – who hold valuable tax information for their clients – a tempting target for scam artists.
“The nation’s tax community has successfully joined forces to protect taxpayers through the Security Summit effort, but we need help in this continuing battle,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Taxpayers and tax professionals are the first line of defense against scammers looking for refunds. We are entering a sensitive holiday and tax period, and we urge people to protect their personal information – and avoid problems at tax time.”
The IRS and Summit partners continue to see constantly evolving threats and scams. They can mimic IRS and others in the tax community with fake emails, texts and online scams. These schemes can lurk underneath COVID-related messages, stimulus payments or tax refunds. And they can frequently use recent tragedies or charitable groups to coax people into sharing sensitive financial data.
To help combat this, the Summit partner’s National Tax Security Awareness Week will feature a week-long series of educational materials to help protect individuals, businesses and tax pros from identity theft. The effort will include special informational graphics and a social media effort on Twitter and Instagram with @IRSnews and #TaxSecurity.
A special emphasis for this year will be focusing tax security awareness on younger and older Americans. Even if someone doesn’t file a tax return, their online interactions can lead to scam artists obtaining sensitive information and using it to try obtaining a refund.
As part of the larger effort, the IRS and Security Summit partners are sharing YouTube videos on security steps for taxpayers. The videos can be viewed or downloaded at Easy Steps to Protect Your Computer and Phone and Security Measures Help Protect Against Tax-Related Identity Theft.
Cybercrime is a constant concern in the online world which means everyone must be mindful of risks when they share devices, shop online and interact on social media. While this may seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. A few small security measures can lower the risk of exposure to online safety threats.
Beware of sharing personal information
No one should reveal too much information about themselves. People can keep data secure by only providing what is necessary. This reduces online exposure to criminals. For example, birthdays, addresses, age and especially Social Security numbers are some things that should not be shared freely. In fact, people should not routinely carry a Social Security card in their wallet or purse. Taxpayers should only share government issued ID after first verifying the nature of the request by contacting the agency or visiting the agency’s website. If someone calls requesting personal or financial information, verify their request separately, otherwise hang up and report the contact.
Protect personal data
Adults should advise young users to shop at reputable online retailers. They should treat personal information like cash and shouldn’t leave it lying around.
Use security software
People should make sure their security software such as anti-virus, and firewalls is always turned on and can automatically update. They should regularly backup and encrypt sensitive files stored on computers. Sensitive files include things like tax records, school transcripts and college applications. They should use strong, unique passwords for each account and enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication for online accounts where possible. They should also be sure all family members have comprehensive anti-virus protection for their devices, particularly on shared devices.
Know the risk of public Wi-Fi
Connection to public Wi-Fi is convenient and often free, but it may not be safe. Criminals can easily steal personal information from these networks. Always use a virtual private network when connecting to public Wi-Fi.
Learn to recognize and avoid scams
Everyone should be aware of common scams. Criminals use phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts to pose as IRS employees or other legitimate government or law enforcement agencies. People should remember to never click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
Be aware of compromised accounts
Suspicious contact may appear to come from someone the user knows who has had their online accounts such as email, or social media, compromised by a criminal; meaning the account is theirs, but they didn’t send the request.