Checklist for tax identity protection

January 31, 2017 : Annelise Wiens

Tax identity theft is a billion-dollar business. In 2013, the IRS identified 5.1 million fraudulent returns and paid more than $5.8 billion in fraudulent refunds.

Unfortunately, it’s a relatively easy crime to commit. All the information a criminal typically needs to file a fraudulent tax return is a person’s name, date of birth and Social Security number. They also need a way to file an electronic return.

“There is no fool-proof way to stop identity theft,” said Kathy Pickering, executive director of The Tax Institute at H&R Block. “The good news is that the number of new reports of identity theft by individuals who filed 2015 federal tax returns has fallen by more than 50 percent thanks to the IRS and the tax industry partnering to combat tax fraud. But there is more to do, and it also takes vigilance and action on the part of consumers.”

For National Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, taxpayers can review this checklist of some simple ways they can protect their information, beware of scams and be vigilant with their taxes.

Protect personal information

  • Do not carry a Social Security card in a wallet.
  • Do not give out a Social Security Number (SSN) on the phone or in a public place.
  • Do not send a SSN or date of birth in an email or a text.
  • Do not share an online user ID, password or PIN with others. Do not leave this information anywhere someone else can easily see or gain access to it.
  • Avoid easily guessed or common names and numbers for passwords and PINs. Change passwords regularly and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts.
  • Close unused credit-card accounts and destroy the credit card.
  • Use a shredder for documents containing personal information.
  • Use firewalls, anti-spam/virus software, update security patches.
  • Look for the S in https which means the site uses secure encryption technology.
  • Do not shop online on public Wi-Fi where information can be intercepted.
  • Request a copy of a credit report and keep tabs on who might be accessing it.
  • Review financial statements like credit card bills and bank statements for suspicious activity.

Beware of Scams

  • Be aware of phishing and social engineering scams. Be suspicious of emails that ask for credentials. Do not provide personal information over the phone, via text, through the mail or on the Internet.
  • The IRS will never email or connect on social media to request personal information.
  • The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment.
  • The IRS will never ask for credit or debit card information over the phone.
  • The IRS will never require specific payment methods.
  • The IRS will always contact taxpayers by mail first about taxes owed.
  • Report phone calls, emails or letters from IRS impersonators to the Treasury Department. Use its IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting Portal or call 800-366-4484.

Be Vigilant with Taxes

  • File early to lessen the window of opportunity for a criminal to file first.
  • If using a tax preparer, ask what they do to protect tax return information.
  • Apply for additional IRS protections like the identity protection PIN.
  • Consider a product like the Tax Identity Shield.

Taxpayers can help better protect themselves by practicing these simple measures. But these measures alone won’t always be enough. Criminals can get the information they need to file a return from company and government data breaches.

The IRS and tax industry may be able to stop the thieves after they have the taxpayer’s information. But when the worst happens, the Tax Identity Shield offers victims assistance restoring their identities and getting their refunds.

Taxpayers can learn more about tax identity thefthow to spot it and what to do if they become a victim and what H&R Block is doing to protect taxpayers.

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Annelise Wiens

Former Editor and Producer

As the former newsroom editor, Annelise Wiens was interested in more than just tax and industry news, but the stories of H&R Block's 80,000 associates, their communities and H&R Block's world headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. Wiens joined H&R Block in 2014 from a public relations agency, where she worked with clients in the financial services industry. Before that, she worked as a communicator for a senior member of the United States House of Representatives. She graduated from Biola University in La Mirada, CA with a bachelor's degree in history.

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