Nothing feels less like the holidays than thinking about your tax returns. With that said, the IRS is hosting it’s National Tax Security Awareness Week to help consumers protect themselves from the steady increase in tax return fraud and tax-related identity theft crimes that many have experienced in recent years.
The good news is that changes implemented in 2016 are intended to result in a decrease in tax return fraud, but there’s still a long way to go. That’s why the IRS is launching this campaign during the early part of December.
“The week, which runs Dec. 5-9, will feature a series of consumer warnings and tips that will be released daily and featured on the Taxes. Security. Together. web page and a one-page Publication 4524, Security Awareness for Taxpayers,” according to a report on the awareness event from IRS.gov.
What makes December the ideal time for spreading the word about tax return fraud and identity theft? Some key behaviors are more common at this time of year; first, a lot of consumers are doing their holiday shopping, either online or in stores, which means their personal data and financial information could be more exposed than at other times. Also, thieves know that the busyness of the holiday season can mean you’re less likely to notice if someone steals your personal information and uses it.
More importantly, the tax filing season begins on January 1st. For many taxpayers, that means taking their sensitive data to a tax preparer or filing it themselves online. The potential for having your information compromised is higher during this time of year simply because there’s more outside access to it.
The IRS and the state governments are working together to minimize the overall public risk. At the same time, they’re providing important resources for people who might be at higher risk—such as anyone who’s already had his personal identifiable information stolen—as well as consumers who want to head off as much of the threat as possible.
There are three important pieces of advice that come directly from the IRS in time for National Tax Security Awareness Week:
1. Make sure any technology you use—whether it contains sensitive data or not—has up-to-date antivirus and antimalware software installed. Remember, installing it once does not keep you protected; you must update the software whenever the developer issues new versions to keep that protection going.
2. Learn to recognize the signs and dangers of phishing messages. Typically sent by email by also found in text messages, social media messages, and phone scams, phishing attempts occur when a scammer tries to get his hands on your personal information by pretending to be someone else. Don’t fall for it, even if it seems like it might be genuine.
3. It’s crucial to safeguard your information and make sure that you’re only sharing it with people who have a legitimate need for it. Keep your personal papers and documentation out of sight where holiday visitors won’t stumble across them, and never carry important documents like your Social Security card around with you.
Of course, one of the best ways to protect your tax return is to file it as early as possible, literally beating a criminal to it. Remember, recent changes to IRS regulations can mean a possible delay in issuing tax refunds, so be prepared for a slightly longer wait. Filing early will help you get your return sooner rather than later.
Connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.