For those without overly complicated taxes, it can be tempting to file online. After all, you can grab your handful of documents, log on to a site set up to guide you through the process, and if you file with the same company for a few years running you’ll even have access to your old tax documents that they’ve saved to your account.
What many don’t realize, however, is that even when working with a reputable company, identity theft related to online tax filing is increasingly common. And while it can happen when filing with a traditional brick and mortar business, it’s far more common among those filing online.
With the far reaching impact that identity theft can have, this is surely something we all want to avoid. Luckily, there are a few common scams that you can keep an eye out for. Though these known scams don’t account for everything, with these in mind, we can all enter the tax season with the necessary attention and diligence needed to protect ourselves.
Tax Time Basics
As with any transaction during which your private information may be at risk, it’s important to take all the basic precautions when filing your taxes. This includes making sure you are filing your taxes over a secure server – now is not the time to take up residence in the coffee shop and get a little work done or to use your neighbor’s unlocked WiFi network. Unsecured connections are the easiest route of access for cyber criminals, even those with minimal hacking skills.
In addition to working on a secure connection, the site should also be sporting its security credentials in the form of an “https” URL. And make sure you’ve updated all your security software before you get started, since you may have a virus or security breach that’s otherwise invisible to you. These updates roll in frequently because new attacks are always being discovered, so don’t trust that last week’s virus library is up-to-date and ready to protect you from today’s scams.
It’s also wise to know that very few reputable tax organizations will ask you to transmit any kind of protected information via email and if given the option to communication via email, you can opt for a more secure means. So while an unscrupulous small tax organization might shoot you a quick email, know that the IRS and reputable tax companies, like Shockley Bookkeeping & Tax Services, will never ask you for things like your Social Security number or bank information via email.
It can also help to hold that kind of propriety in mind if you face another seemingly unusual situation while managing your taxes. If it seems like something the company in question wouldn’t do, assume it’s a scam and contact an appropriate representative via phone.
The Facts About Phishing
Phishing is a term that applies specifically to email based scams. Now that you know that the IRS won’t email you about private information and that you shouldn’t communicate private information in that way, there’s one more major step you can take to protect against phishing: don’t click on the links!
Opening a phishing email is generally harmless – it will occasionally allow a virus of some kind to access your computer – but it’s clicking the links that put you at a real risk. These links may take you to a scam website or download infected files to your computer. While a good spam filter should be able to catch most of these sites, tax season is the prime time for new schemes.
Opt In For An IP-PIN
Social Security numbers are key information for identity thieves, but it turns out that you can get around even having to use this piece of valuable information. The IRS offers something called an IP-PIN for Identity Protection PIN, an alternate option that allows you to avoid putting your Social Security number on important documents.
The problem with IP-PINs has nothing to do with the use or security of these numbers themselves. No, the biggest problem surrounding this tool is that few people know about them and even fewer use this alternate number. And this is a problem of our own creation – if more people opted in and began to use IP-PINS we would likely see a decrease in identity theft cases. IP-PINs have the ability to keep sensitive information out of thieves’ hands, yet few people take this simple step.
Fighting Phone Felonies
Although you may be most vulnerable to identity theft when filing your taxes online, some theft will come after you more directly. The IRS phone scam is one of the most prominent in this class, with fraudsters calling you up and telling you that you owe back taxes. And even if you think you don’t – even know you’ve been paying your taxes reliably – these phone calls can send you into a panic, causing you to provide sensitive information.
It’s important to trust your gut in these cases and report any impersonation attempts to the IRS. You know your financial history better than anyone else, and you’re also more likely to be contacted by mail about such an issue. Don’t fall into the grip of someone who wants to snag valuable information or you’ll be joining the thousands of Americans who have lost a collective millions of dollars over the last few years.
Trust The True Tax Experts
Rather than risk your luck with online tax services, contact the proven professionals at Shockley Bookkeeping & Tax Services. At Shockley, we work with a variety of business and we have the tax knowledge to handle even highly complicated cases. Priding ourselves on staying up to date on every new development in the tax world, we offer only the safest tax preparation services.
Tax season doesn’t need to be spotted with cyber landmines and data theft. Instead, protect your information with Shockley Bookkeeping & Tax Services. With our help, you can be sure all the numbers line up – and that the maximum amount ends up back in your pocket.