IRS Tax Tips and Personal Data Protection

Eric Mikkelson |

As tax season is in full swing, we found some helpful suggestions from the IRS website (www.irs.gov) with some steps you can take to protect your personal and financial information.

Helpful suggestions when looking for a tax professional:

• Be wary of companies who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers.
• Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of the amount of the refund.
• Use a reputable tax preparer who signs your tax return and provides you with a copy for your records.
• Consider whether the tax preparer will be available to answer questions about your tax return months, or even years, after the return has been filed.
• Before signing your return, review everything and ask questions on anything you don't understand.
• Remember that you, the taxpayer, are always responsible for the information on your tax return. Only sign a final tax form, never sign a blank tax form.
• Find out the tax preparer’s credentials and ask if they have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). This number is given when a tax preparer is registered with the IRS and is included on tax returns.
• Ask questions to find out more information about the tax preparer. Did you find them through a referral and was that person happy with the service they provided? Does the tax preparer complete any continuing education and/or belong to any organization that provides resources and holds them to a code of ethics?

The IRS also created a Security Awareness Tax Tips page with a series of articles to review - https://www.irs.gov/uac/irs-security-awareness-tax-tips

Please consider these steps the IRS provided to protect yourselves and your data:

Keep Your Computer Secure

• Use security software and make sure it updates automatically; essential tools include using a firewall, virus/malware protection and file encryption for sensitive data
• Treat your personal information like cash, don’t leave it lying around
• Check out companies to find out who you’re really dealing with
• Give personal information only over encrypted websites – look for “https” addresses
• Use strong passwords and protect them. 10-14 digits minimal is best, with a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Using phrases can help you remember, such as “Spr1ng iz comin!”
• Back up your files

Avoid Phishing and Malware

• Avoid phishing emails, texts or calls that appear to be from the IRS, tax companies and other well-known business; instead, go directly to their websites
• Don’t open attachments in emails unless you know who sent it and what it is
• Download and install software only from websites you know and trust
• Use a pop-up blocker
• Talk to your family about safe computing practices

Protect Personal Information

• Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card or documents with your Social Security Number.
• Do not overshare personal information on social media. Information about past addresses, a new car, a new home and your children help identity thieves pose as you.
• Keep old tax returns and tax records under lock and key or encrypted, if electronic.
• Shred tax documents before trashing.

Watch out for IRS impersonators. The IRS provided the following reminders that these are all scams and have been known to change frequently; don’t fall for these:
• The IRS will not call you with threats of jail or lawsuits.
• The IRS will not send you an unsolicited email suggesting you have a refund or that you need to update your account.
• The IRS will not request any sensitive information online.

Forward IRS-related scam emails to phishing@irs.gov.
Report IRS-impersonation telephone calls at www.tigta.gov.

Additional steps:

• Check your credit reports annually; check your bank and credit card statements often;
• Review your Social Security Administration records annually: you can sign up for a login to “My Social Security” at www.ssa.gov.