Tax season can be a stressful time for many Americans, and scammers are waiting for you to slip up so they can steal your personal information, money and identity. Along with the National Cybersecurity Alliance and the IRS, we want to help you stay safe online while filing your taxes with these best practices, tips, and resources.
Before You Get Started: Prepare Your Devices
Lock Down Your Login
Create long and unique passphrases for all accounts and use multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible. MFA will fortify your online accounts by creating an extra layer of security, such as a unique one-time code sent to your phone. Most major email and online tax preparation services have this tool available.
Update Your Software
Before filing your taxes at home or work, be sure that all internet-connected devices - including PCs, smartphones and tablets - are running the most current version of software to improve the performance and security of your devices.
Beware of Public Wi-Fi
Public wireless networks are not secure. If you are filing your taxes online make sure you are doing it on a secure and personal network. We advise the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) any time you need to operate on Wi-Fi.
Think Before Supplying Sensitive Information
Unsolicited emails, calls, or texts that prompt you to click on a link or share valuable personal and financial information are very likely scams. With your personal data, online thieves can swindle funds and/or commit identity theft. Learn how to recognize a scam with the following tips:
IRS Communications: Real Vs. Fake
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 communications with you via physical mail first. The IRS will not demand you make an immediate payment to a source other than the U.S. Treasury.
Unscrupulous callers claiming to be federal employees can be very convincing by using fake names or phone 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, 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 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@example.com, then delete it.
Working with Tax Preparers
Do Your Research
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 cyberthieves, so it is critical to choose a preparer who takes security seriously.
Choosing a Cyber-Savvy Tax Preparer
Be selective about who you choose to file your taxes.
Consider asking them 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 email. However, if you must transfer them electronically, be sure to do it as securely as possible.
- 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.
- 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.
Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself
Every tax professional is a potential target for highly sophisticated, well-funded and technologically adept cybercriminals around the world.
As a full-suite IT and cybersecurity firm, Restech can help with your business technology and security needs. Contact us to learn more.
Source: National Cyber Security Alliance & the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency