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Thursday February 20, 2020

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IRS Tips on Protecting Your Identity

In IR-2019-41, as part of a Tax Time Guide series, the Service offered specific tips for protecting personal information. Each tax season, the Service receives many complaints about con artists who steal personal information and money from unsuspecting victims. The IRS sponsors a Security Summit and regularly shares ways to protect financial information and avoid identity theft.

There are six specific IRS suggestions for safeguarding your data and identity.
  1. Protect Personal Information — Your Social Security Number, credit card, bank account and retirement fund account numbers are valuable data. Use careful judgement and do not release them unless it is necessary. If you do release them, be certain you know who is asking for the information and the purpose for your disclosure.
  2. Guard Against Phishing Emails — Scammers continue to be very deceptive in their "phishing" email strategies. A scammer email may look like it came from a family member, a friend or your tax advisor. It may offer a great discount or free "security software." Do not click on any links if you are not certain who sent the email. Many victims click on links because they think the email is from a friend or tax advisor. They later discover the scammer who sent the email has installed malware to steal their identity.
  3. Use Secure Websites — When you are shopping or banking online, use secure websites with "https" at the start of the web address. The "https" is more secure than the normal "http" because the "s" requires a security certificate. The data you send with "https" will be encrypted. All financial accounts should use a security certificate on the website.
  4. Set Up Strong Passwords — Your passwords should be different for all important websites. Use 10 to 14 characters in each password. Include uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and a special character in each password. Set up passwords and security on your home and office wireless networks. An unprotected home Wi-Fi network can be monitored by a scammer who may attempt to steal your bank and financial passwords.
  5. Install Security Software — Home computer security software is a bargain. It is a small fraction of the cost of the loss you could incur if your identity is stolen. Your security software should automatically update each day and protect you against viruses, spyware and malware.
  6. Backup Your Files — Regularly backup your files on an external drive, a USB memory drive or a CD. If you become a victim of "ransomware," your files may be locked unless you pay a "ransom" amount. You may need to reformat or replace your hard drive to access and restore your data files.

Published March 15, 2019

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