Action Line: With the holidays upon us and tax time fast approaching, the IRS scam calls are sure to surge again. (I’m not sure they have really subsided at all.)
The IRS, states and tax industry have announced a new campaign aimed at encouraging more people to protect their personal data online and at home. BBB echos this message vehemently.
According to the IRS, the “Taxes. Security. Together.” campaign is designed to raise public awareness that even routine actions on the Internet and personal devices can affect the safety of people’s financial and tax data. The education campaign will complement the expanded series of protections the IRS, states and tax industry are putting in place for the start of the 2016 filing season to address tax-related identity theft.
With scam reports on the rise paired with the fact that these scammers are becoming more and more sophisticated, it’s essential for all of us to be extremely cautious with all personal data. No one is 100% safe from ID theft. You could be the next victim. So read these recommendations and follow them.
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The IRS, states and tax industry are urging the public to take active steps to protect themselves. The partners are encouraging people to:
▪ Use security software to protect computers. This includes a firewall and anti-virus protection. If tax returns or sensitive data are stored on the computers, encrypt the files. Use strong passwords.
▪ Beware of phishing emails and phone scams. A common way for identity thieves to steal names and Social Security numbers, passwords, credit card numbers and bank account information is to simply ask for it.
Clever criminals pose as trusted organizations that you recognize and send spam emails, calls or texts. Their email may ask you to update a bank account or tax software account and provide a link to a fake website that is designed solely to steal your login information.
They may call posing as the IRS threatening you with jail or lawsuits unless you make an immediate payment. They may provide an attachment that, if you download, will infect your machine and enable the thief to access sensitive files or track your keystrokes.
▪ Protect personal information. Do not routinely carry your Social Security number. Properly dispose of old tax returns and other sensitive documents by shredding before trashing. Check your credit reports and Social Security Administration accounts at least annually to ensure no one is using your good credit or using your SSN for employment. Oversharing on social media also gives identity thieves even more personal details.
BBB also recommends that you never give personal info to anyone that you don’t know no matter what they are telling you. Check them out first. Please share this information with consumers and businesses.
See www.irs.gov/taxessecuritytogether for more information. There also is IRS Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers, which provides a brief overview of steps people can take.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.