Take Preventive Measures

You may wonder how many taxpayers file electronic vs. paper returns. �There are 150 million households that file federal and state tax returns involving trillions of dollars�. More than 90% of these tax returns are prepared on a laptop, desktop or even a smartphone �” whether they’re done by an individual or a tax preparer. This is a massive amount of sensitive data that identity thieves would love to get access to.� With 150 million households, someone right now is clicking on an email link they shouldn’t, or skipping an important computer security update, leaving them vulnerable to hackers,� said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a recent statement about the Security Summit Group. (See �IRS Creates Security Summit Group� above.)

How can you actively safeguard your personal data online and at home? Here are four simple ways to thwart tax-related identity theft:

1.Keep your computer secure. Simple, cost-effective security measures add up. For example, use updated security software that offers firewalls, virus and malware protection and file encryption. Be stingy with personal information, giving it out only over encrypted websites with �https� in the web address. Also back up computer files regularly and use strong passwords (with a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols).
2.Avoid phishing and malware scams. Be leery of emails you receive from unknown sources. Never open attachments unless you trust the sender and know what’s being sent. Don’t install software from unfamiliar websites or disable pop-up blockers.
3.Protect personal information. Treat personal information like cash. Don’t carry around your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Be careful what you share on social media �” identity thieves can exploit information about new car or home purchases, past addresses, vacations and even your children and grandchildren. Keep old tax returns in a safe location and shred them before trashing.
4.Watch out for scammers who impersonate IRS agents. IRS impersonators typically demand payment and threaten to arrest victims who fail to ante up. The Federal Trade Commission recently issued an alert about police raids on illegal telemarketing operations in India that led to the indictment of dozens of IRS impersonators. Remember: The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment, nor will they call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill.

Another simple way to prevent someone from filing a fraudulent return is simply to file your return as soon as possible. The IRS begins processing tax returns on January 23. If you file a tax return before would-be fraudsters do, their refund claims are more likely to be rejected for filing under a duplicate Social Security number.