We’re gearing up for tax season around here, already beginning to help certain West Michigan clients get their returns ready for filing (yes, this early) when the IRS begins allowing receipt of electronically-filed returns on the 29th of this month.
And while we have been doing so, we have heard some things I wanted to tell you about …
You see, there is a lot of buzz flying around the tax professional community in recent days about a series of criminals who are posing as potential clients for unsuspecting tax firms around the country, trying to gain access to the data within a tax firm’s files. The fraudsters reach out, “looking for tax help”, and eventually sucker in the overly-hungry (and under-cautious) tax pro into clicking on a link or opening a document purporting to be their tax data.
Fortunately for us (and for you), we’ve already set procedures in to place that would make it very difficult for something like that to get through. We gladly will take on new West Michigan clients and referrals, but we have security protocols for handling our West Michigan clients’ data for a reason!
But that’s not the problem that concerns you…
You see, there are some other stories going around tax industry circles that would definitely interest you, if you heard them.
What am I referring to?
The horror stories for regular West Michigan taxpayers whose identity DOES get taken by a fraudster, whether or not the source is from an unsuspecting (other) tax professional. I’ll spare you the harrowing details, but suffice to say that the IRS has not (yet) proven itself very “nimble” in dealing with taxpayers whose data gets compromised by fraud.
And I’d say that’s putting it very generously.
In short, you do not want to get caught on the bad end of taxpayer fraud (i.e., when someone steals your data to file a false return and fraudulently obtain refund dollars from the IRS).
One of the best ways you can prevent this from happening is to file your returns with us as soon as humanly possible in the season.
But there are other smart ways you can protect yourself, and that’s the subject for today’s Note…
Common Sense Taxpayer Information Security for Forrest Tax & Accounting Services Clients
“We all yearn for what we have lost. But sometimes, we forget what we have.” -Mitch Albom
We’re all seeing the cultural consequences for when people seem to lose their sense of decorum and decency when handling themselves online.
But the other side of the problem is that people also seem to lose their common sense about their own extremely sensitive financial data.
My first point today is this: use your common sense. If your gut is telling you something seems fishy, then it likely is phishy. Don’t take the bait!
With that as a base point, here are some other simple security precautions I’d like to see each of our West Michigan clients take (even those who aren’t “tech savvy”) …
1) As I already mentioned, the best place to start is to file early to lessen the window of opportunity for a criminal to file first. Even if you’re not good with a computer, you can do that.
2) If, for some odd reason, you do NOT choose to use our services this year, I urge you: thoroughly research any paid preparer or tax-preparation software. Scammers love to set up fake websites and software downloads solely designed to trick consumers into providing their personal information. If you haven’t already heard of it, don’t use it. And also: ask potential West Michigan tax preparers to explain how they file and what steps they take to protect customer information. Information security must be at the top of your checklist over the next few months.
3) Do not use public Wi-Fi to send us your sensitive data. There are many good reasons for this, but the takeaway for our purposes here: wait until you are on a secure network to send us your data.
4) Do NOT respond to any emails or text messages from anyone who says they’re with the IRS, as the organization typically makes first contact with individuals via phone or traditional mailed correspondence. No IRS representative ever will ask for immediate payment via phone. Let us handle your correspondence with the fine folks at the IRS on your behalf!
5) Residents of Florida, Georgia or the District of Columbia can choose to get an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN), which is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers that helps prevent the misuse of their Social Security number on fraudulent federal income tax returns. Eventually, they should be expanding this program for other states, but if you happen to have tax interests there, it’s a good idea to take advantage.
If the worst happens, and crooks do manage to steal your tax identity, we are here to help. But it’s also a good idea to check your credit report for any additional fraudulent activity. You can get copies of your credit reports directly from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
The IRS also wants to know about any and all tax scam attempts, so it can get the word out early and prevent or limit any potential damage. Send a copy of any phishing email to the tax agency at email@example.com.
We’re here to help. Let me know if you have any questions.
Forrest Tax & Accounting Services