Tax season provides identity thieves and scammers with a brand-new opportunity to take advantage of people every year. With the large amount of personal financial information being used for tax filings, stealing someone’s identity gets a little easier for thieves, and scamming people is simpler when they’re already expecting to send money to a government organization.
Every tax season, thousands of people fall victim to these criminals. At Biesinger & Kofford CPAs, we want to minimize the odds of this ever happening to one of our clients. That’s why we use only the most secure tax filing systems and have strict security protocol for handling all client information. But there are things you should do to protect your identity as well.
Steps to Protecting Your Identity
Regardless of the time of year, you should always be taking steps to ensure your privacy and the protection of your personal data. Here are a few steps to follow to keep your information safe and minimize your chances of becoming a victim to identity thieves:
- Store your Social Security card in a safe, secure location, like a locked filing cabinet at home. Never carry it around with you. If you need your Social Security card for a specific purpose (such as on the first day of a new job), be sure to return it to your locked filing cabinet as soon as you are finished using it.
- Don’t share your SSN with anyone you don’t trust. This information should only be necessary for certified professionals, like medical personnel or your Provo accountant.
- When doing any online shopping, never enter your financial information into a site you don’t trust. If you’re uncertain about a site’s security, use a more secure form of payment, like PayPal.
- Check your credit report every year for any unauthorized financial activity.
- Keep anti-virus software and firewalls on your computer up to date and activated at all times.
- Update your passwords on a regular basis. Be sure to use a different, complex password for each account. If necessary, use a password management app to keep track of your logins.
Sometimes, no matter how diligent you are, you can still fall victim to identity theft. During tax season, one common tactic among identity thieves is to file a tax return using your Social Security number. They do this early on in the tax season, and you typically won’t be aware it has happened until you try to file your own tax return, and discover one has already been filed with your information.
If this does happen to you, you will need to contact the IRS directly and fill out an Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039). Submitting this form per the included instructions will help to get the issue fixed as quickly as possible.
How to Identify a Tax Scam
While identity thieves may be able to get ahold of your information regardless of your best efforts to protect yourself, scammers can only take advantage of you if you fall for their scams. Becoming a victim of a tax scam is 100% preventable, if you know what to look for and how to recognize a scam when you see one. Here are a few tips on how to identify a tax scam:
- Threatening phone calls: Scammers will frequently try to use fear to get a victim to send them money. They will contact potential victims via phone and threaten them with deportation, lawsuits, and arrest if they don’t pay the supposed taxes they owe right away. While fear is a powerful tool for manipulation, you should never fall for this ploy. The IRS will never contact you in such a way, and will always supply a written notice if you have overdue taxes. If you get one of these phone calls, hang up, and report the number to the IRS.
- Email and social media scams: Another common way for scammers to contact you is via email or social media. The message included is usually similar to the one described above, but as with phone calls, the IRS will never contact you through email or social media, regardless of your situation. If you get an email from someone claiming to be with the IRS, forward the message to firstname.lastname@example.org and delete the email.
- Fake websites: Whether you receive a link through an email scam or you are otherwise led to a website that appears to be the IRS website, always check the site’s official URL. If it does not begin with irs.gov, you are being directed to a false website that is likely designed to steal your information. If you get a link to a website that looks suspicious, you can mouse over the provided link and you will see a box pop up that shows the actual URL; this can differ from the text in the link. Be sure to report any websites posing as the IRS site to the email address provided above.
At Biesinger & Kofford CPAs, the protection of your personal and financial information is always our top priority. We want to ensure that all of our clients are protected from identity thieves and scammers during tax season, as well as throughout the rest of the year. If you have further questions regarding tax-related scams and identity theft, or you would like to know more about the security measures we take to protect your information, please feel free to reach out to your Provo accountant.