Tips to Safeguard Your Personal Data and Avoid Identity Theft

For the last four years the IRS has convened a Security Summit with leading private sector firms and federal and state tax administrators and industry professionals. Their focus is to discuss ways to combat existing and emerging threats to the personally identifiable information of taxpayers and develop ways to prevent identity theft and the fraud associated with the use of these stolen identities.  

For 2019, the Security Summit is emphasizing their campaign – Taxes. Security. Together.  In addition to requiring more robust security requirements for tax professionals; urging businesses to educate their employees, protect payroll data, and develop security plans; the Summit has provided an information sheet and guidelines for taxpayers to protect their data as well.  Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers  offers tips for taxpayers to take as protective measures.

Keep your Computer and Phone Secure

  • Use a firewall, virus protection and encrypt sensitive data. 
  • Be aware of who else is using your computer, including family members who may play online games, download data, or chat with others online.   
  • Do not share your personal information on websites that are not secure.  Secure websites should have the “https” address. 
  • Use encryption software, passwords, or a secure portal to send the information when emailing sensitive data.
  • Protect your passwords and do not use the same password for every site.  A phrase with a combination of letters, numbers and characters that is meaningful to the user is a good way to create a strong password that is easily recalled.
  • Only install and download software from known and trusted websites.
  • Never open attachments you were not expecting.  Call and confirm with the sender. Delete emails from those unknown to you.
  • Create a secure Virtual Private Network with a password for your wi-fi.
  • Do not use public wi-fi for personal banking or other sensitive business.
  • Use two-factor authentication whenever possible.

Avoid Scams

  • The IRS will never call to threaten taxpayers with lawsuits, jail, or suspension of their Social Security Number. Just hang up and report those calls to www.tigta.gov.
  • The IRS will not send unsolicited emails with offers of refunds or requesting updated account information. Sensitive information will never be requested online.  Taxpayers should forward these scam emails to phishing@irs.gov
  • Your tax debt will never be resolved by iTunes cards, Google play cards or any other type of gift card, and certainly not over the phone by relaying the numbers from the cards.
  • Always ignore robo-calls with numbers that claim to be from the IRS and delete texts.
  • Remember to check on your friends and family members to be sure they are aware of the latest scam tactics.

Safeguard Your Personally Identifiable Information

  • Leave your Social Security card at home, preferably in a lock box or fireproof safe.
  • Do not overshare information on social media.  Identity thieves may be able to glean personal information that can circumvent other security measures.
  • Encrypt digital copies or secure physically past tax returns and supporting documents.
  • Shred any document that has your Social Security Number, birthdate or other sensitive details before discarding.
  • Do not leave your wallet, computer, or paperwork in your vehicle unattended.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year. Everyone is entitled to one free copy of their credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies.  The only authorized website to obtain a report is www.annualcreditreport.com or you can call 1-877-322-8228.  You will have to verify your identity. 
  • Review your banking activity to ensure your debit and credit cards have not been compromised.
  • Check your Social Security Administration information once a year at www.ssa.gov.

Know Your Resources

If you are the victim of identity theft, know your resources and the actions to take if your information is compromised.   The following websites offer guidance on how to report identity theft and how to develop a recovery plan.  Your financial institution may also have resources to help recover lost funds, remove fraudulent charges, and assist with replacing compromised cards.

Between 2015 and 2018 the number of taxpayers who reported to the IRS they were victims of identity theft fell by 71%.  This does not mean the scammers and hackers have stopped. It just means they are becoming more resourceful, targeted, and sneaky. 

Visit our other related articles below.  All have relevant information for awareness and combating identity theft, even if they are related to earlier years.

Identity Theft and Your Tax Returns: How to Protect Yourself

Don’t be a Victim of Tax Identity Theft: File your 2017 Return Early

Spotting Early Signs of Identity Theft

Tax Return Identity Theft: What to Do if You Fall Victim and Ways to Prevent It

© 2019


About Erin:

Erin Kidd is the Tax Individual Practice Supervisor at Thompson Greenspon and has nearly a decade of tax experience specializing in individual taxation. Throughout her career, she has focused on simplifying complex tax issues and educating clients to maximize their tax benefits and plan for future events. Erin is responsible for the review of individual Federal and multi-state tax returns, managing the firm’s Military Spouse Remote Preparer Program, preparation of individual tax returns with international taxation and reporting requirements, and assisting with the resolution of client issues with Federal and State Taxing Authorities. 

Erin holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Morehead State University, is an Enrolled Agent, a federally licensed tax preparer who has unlimited rights to practice before the IRS, and an Accredited Financial Counselor ®. She has been recognized by the Garrison Commands of West Point, NY and Fort Leavenworth, KS for her contributions to the military community for her work with the installations’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Centers

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