We’re reaching the end of January, but before you know it, March will be upon us. For some, March means the end of winter and an oncoming Spring Break where the weather promises more sun than snow. For others, March is synonymous with madness centered around college basketball where teams from across the country whittle down to the Final Four. March is an emergence from hibernation and stepping into a world of activity.
And there is a corner of that world where receipts are gathered, numbers are organized, and accountants are clocking in overtime. Yes, March is also the month of preparation for April’s Income Tax filing.
As we have already seen with this year’s TurboTax commercials, tax returns has evolved from multiple documents and copies of documents to a process that you can carry out to completion on your smartphone or tablet. What may be reduced to the simplest of processes on your mobile device of choice should not be forgotten for what it is. Tax returns are communications containing personally identifiable information (PII) including addresses, Social Security numbers (SSN), employer information, and bank account numbers, all of which can be used to compromise or steal the identities of their owners. Adding to this convenience of completing tax forms, the IRS has reported that the majority of income tax refunds will be sent to taxpayers electronically.
For a moment, consider how all this added convenience now makes your computer, mobile devices, and online networks a prime target for identity thieves.
Fraudsters commonly masquerade as the IRS, calling and emailing unsuspecting tax payers to turn over their PII in order to correct a factual error on their returns, expedite the deposit of their refunds, or resolve a matter that could lead to an audit. The emails claiming to be from the IRS will usually include attachments or links that contain malware designed to empty the victim’s bank account. Consumers need to be cautious not just of scammers working under the mask of the IRS, but also of emails from property tax appraisers or local county tax assessors, which could just be another rouse employed by identity thieves.
In order to help you avoid tried-and-true scams, here are a few tax season safety tips to keep you safe online.
- Be suspicious of any emails purporting to be from the IRS, no matter what the issue. In case of any doubt, contact the IRS directly for confirmation.
- Never confirm your SSN or bank account details by email.
- If you plan to use an online tax preparation service, make sure you stick with a reputable one that has adequate security measures in place.
- Use a USB external drive to save your information instead of storing it directly on your computer.
- If you owe money to the IRS, try to pay online through their system.
- Don’t forget to shred any unnecessary documents or copies when tax season is over. With so many high tech vulnerabilities available to identity thieves, dumpster diving still remains an easy way to obtain your banking account details and SSNs.
- Finally, check your credit report after tax time and again a few months later as a precaution that your PII wasn’t stolen and is not being used against you.