It’s bad enough that we have to give over 10% of our paycheck to the government, only for them to give a small portion of that back to us a year later. Ya know what we don’t need on top of that? Someone scamming us out of thousands more by convincing us that we didn’t pay enough in taxes and that we will be fined or serve jail time for not paying it. We’re going to discuss two major components of Tax Season Tech Safety: How to spot a fake IRS communication (call, email, or text message) and How to Choose and Work with a Tech-Savvy Tax Preparer. I’ve also added “Resources for Tax Preparers” links at the bottom.
How to Spot a Fake IRS Communication (Call, Email, Text)
- Real Vs. Fake IRS Communication:
- Be skeptical of any phone calls, emails, or texts claiming to be from the IRS, or other government agencies. Almost all contact from the IRS will be initiated via the U.S. Postal Service. They will only call once they have established a line of communication with you via physical mail first.
- The IRS will not demand that you make an immediate payment to a source other than the U.S. Treasury.
- Scam callers claiming to be federal employees can be very convincing by using fake names or phony ID numbers. If you are unsure if the caller is legitimate, hang up, look up the direct number for the agency online, and call that source to verify
- Other Red Flags:
- Requests for PII: Personally Identifiable Information (PII) refers to any data that could potentially identify a specific individual. For example: Bank account information, Social Security numbers, login credentials, and mailing addresses.
- Urgency: The sender uses an abnormal sense of urgency, or other scare tactics, to obtain information.
- Attachments: The message includes an attachment, such as a PDF. Never open attachments from a suspicious or unknown email address. It may download malware or viruses onto your device.
WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!
If an email or text message seems suspicious, even if you think you know the source, it’s best to just delete it. You can also report IRS, Treasury or tax-related phishing scams to [email protected] and then delete it.
Work With a Tech Savvy Tax Preparer
CHOOSING A CYBER-SAVVY TAX PREPARER: Vet your tax preparer before handing over sensitive information and ask what steps they take to protect your information. Businesses of all sizes are susceptible to cyber-thieves, so it is critical to choose a preparer who takes security seriously.
- Consider asking the following questions:
- How will we exchange files and sensitive information?
- Who at your firm has access to my data?
- Are our communications end-to-end encrypted?
- What types of network security have you implemented?
- How do you back up client data?
- Securely sending documents:
- The most secure way of transferring documents is physically, either handing them to your tax preparer in person or sending them through the mail. However, if you must transfer them electronically, be sure to do it securely.
- Encrypt your files before sending them via email. Encryption protects the content from being read by entities other than the intended recipients. Encryption features are available on most major email platforms.
- Use a secure portal to upload documents. Portals encrypt documents during transfer and storage and limit access to only approved individuals.
BACK IT UP!
Protect your valuable documents by making an electronic copy and storing it safely. If you have a copy of your data and your device falls victim to ransomware, you will be able to restore the data from a backup.
- Use the 3-2-1 rule as a guide to backing up your data:
- Keep at least three (3) copies of your data
- Store two (2) backup copies on different storage media
- With one (1) of them located offsite.
IDENTITY PROTECTION PIN (IP PIN): An Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) is a six-digit number that prevents someone else from filing a tax return using your Social Security number. The IP PIN is known only to you and the IRS and helps verify your identity when you file your electronic or paper tax return. Learn more about that here
RESOURCES FOR TAX PREPARERS
- Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourselves – IRS
- Working Virtually: “Security Six” Tips for Tax Professionals – IRS
- A “Taxes-Security-Together” Checklist – IRS
- Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts – IRS
- Security Summit – IRS
- Unemployment Fraud – IRS
- Tax Identity Theft Awareness – Federal Trade Commission
- Tax Identity Theft – Identity Theft Resource Center