Published 4:37 pm, Saturday, December 10, 2016
Over the past few months, I’ve been alerting you to Internal Revenue Service imposter scams and taxpayer-identity theft. These are the perils of modern-day technology and an information-driven life.
Security affects everyone, even those who don’t use computers. Every Medicare beneficiary carries an ID card boldly announcing his or her Social Security number to a potential bad actor.
Confidential information is readily available to fraudsters, and everyone needs to be alert and aware.
Progress is being made. According to the IRS, there has been “marked improvement in the battle against identity theft during 2016.”
For example, 275,000 fewer taxpayers reported stolen identities on federal tax returns in 2016, a decline of about 50 percent from 2015. Plus, there was a drop of about 50 percent in the number of fraudulent returns that made it into the IRS tax-processing systems.
Banks stopped 108,539 suspect refunds and more is being done to prepare for the 2016 tax-filing season that begins in January.
The financial-services industry is assisting to help flag suspicious refunds and to help identify the taxpayer’s “ultimate bank account.”
Work is progressing on using 16-digit verification codes with tax software to validate Form W-2 information. Work also is being done to enhance software passwords for individual and tax-professional software users.
In the meantime, the IRS wants you to take steps to protect yourself as well.
As a result of the potential damage that thieves can cause, the IRS wants all of us to be more alert in protecting confidential data, and help pass along education to friends, family and employees.
Last week, during “National Tax Security Awareness Week,” the IRS offered additional tips:
When you use a computer, check to see that your security software automatically updates.
Don’t open email attachments unless you know the source.
Be alert to “threatening phone calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit-card company and government organizations, including the IRS.”
Encrypt your digital tax records.
Pay special attention to password protection on all of your electronic devices, and don’t forget about the internet of things (IoT). IoT devices such as security monitors or cameras or even toys have factory-set passwords; change them immediately.
Passwords are your first line of defense. Create strong passwords: “Longer is better. A password should be a minimum of eight digits, but 10 to 12 is even better,” according to the IRS.
For more protection, find out about two-factor authentication.
“A two-factor process involves a security code being sent to your registered mobile phone,” the IRS said. “This means if a thief manages to steal your user name and password, he will be blocked from accessing your accounts.”
Finally, consider a password manager, a software program that creates and stores passwords so you don’t have to keep track of different passwords. Of course, be certain to check out the vendor first.