PHOENIX — For the second year, the Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies and the tax industry will host National Tax Security Awareness Week to encourage both individual and business taxpayers to take additional steps to protect their tax data and identities in advance of the 2018 filing season.
Starting Nov. 27, National Tax Security Awareness Week will focus daily on one issue that poses a threat to individuals and businesses and offer steps they may take to better protect themselves from cybercriminals.
The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry, partners in the Security Summit, have enacted a series of defenses in recent years that have made significant inroads into tax-related identity theft. While the partners continue to improve defenses, they also recognize that they need help from taxpayers, tax preparers and businesses to continue progress against identity theft.
Summit partners and other consumer, business and community groups will be hosting a series of more than 20 events across the country to raise awareness. This is especially timely as the holiday season brings out not only online shoppers but online thieves seeking to trick people into disclosing sensitive information that could be used to help file fraudulent tax returns.
National Tax Security Awareness Week also comes amid continuing disclosures that more than 145 million Americans have had their names, addresses and Social Security numbers stolen from a variety of places. No one yet knows how cybercriminals will use this data or try to make money from it.
The IRS and states have put many new defenses in place to help protect taxpayers from identity theft. The new IRS protections have worked well to protect taxpayers, and some key indicators of identity theft on tax returns have dropped by around two-thirds since 2015.
These protections are especially helpful if criminals only have names, addresses and Social Security numbers – which was the information stolen in recent incidents. However, there are continuing concerns that cybercriminals will try to build on this basic information by trying to obtain more specific financial details from taxpayers and tax professionals to help them file fraudulent tax returns.
During the upcoming 2018 filing season, the IRS urges tax professionals, businesses and others to join with the Security Summit partners in sharing the security information through organizations, customers and partners.
During National Tax Security Awareness Week, people will learn about the basic steps necessary to protect themselves and their tax data online, such as using security software, strong passwords and data encryption. They will learn what steps they should take if they are a data-breach victim, such as placing a freeze on their credit accounts and the signs of tax-related identity theft.
They will learn how cybercriminals use phishing emails to bait them into disclosing information. Employers will be warned about the dangerous W-2 scam that has made identity theft victims of thousands of employees. Finally, Summit partners will remind small businesses that they, too, are subject to identity theft and should take steps to protect themselves.
There are three key steps the Summit partners urge people to take to protect tax and financial information:
- Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as banks, credit card companies and government organizations, including the IRS. Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
- Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Make sure the security software is always turned on and will automatically update. Encrypt sensitive files such as tax records stored on computers. Use strong passwords.
- Protect personal data. Use strong, unique passwords for each online account. Don’t routinely carry Social Security cards, and make sure tax records are secure. Treat personal information like cash; don’t leave it lying around.
The IRS, state tax agencies and the tax industry came together in 2015 to join forces in their fight against tax-related identity theft. Learn more about their efforts and their progress at Security Summit on IRS.gov.
Increasing public awareness about people’s role in protecting their own data is a critical part of the Security Summit efforts. Partners launched the “Taxes. Security. Together” awareness campaign in the fall of 2015.
The partners followed up with “Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself” campaign aimed at tax professionals. Partners also held a 10-week “Don’t Take the Bait” awareness effort, warning tax professionals of the most common data breach scams targeting their offices and taxpayer data.