The Internal Revenue Service has partnered with the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs, the National Conference of CPAs, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and the Better Business Bureau to encourage consumers and business taxpayers to protect their tax data and identities during the holidays and upcoming tax filing season.
The organizations joined forces during National Tax Security Awareness Week, which was observed from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1.
“With the holiday season upon us and the 2018 tax filing season nearby we have an urgent message for taxpayers locally in Philadelphia and across the country,” Sean Brennan, chair of the PICPA Federal Taxation Committee, said during a press conference.
“As citizens do their holiday shopping, whether at home on a laptop or using Wi-Fi at a local mall shoppers should take steps to protect their personal and tax data,” he said. “Personal information shared during these holiday shopping transactions could possibly be stolen and later used to assist thieves in filing fraudulent tax returns.”
The message comes as identify theft and data breaches have been on the rise.
“While you’re shopping for gifts, criminals are shopping for your credit cards, your Social Security number and other important identifying information,” said Brian Thomas, a spokesman for the IRS Criminal Investigation.
He urged consumers and business owners to take steps to protect their personal information such as securing their computers with firewall and anti-virus protections, don’t download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails and don’t engage in financial transactions while using unprotected public Wi-Fi.
It was also recommended that people learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails and threatening phone calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as banks, credit card companies and government organizations.
Thomas also encourages people not to carry their Social Security cards with them and make sure their tax records are secure. He also warns employers about a dangerous W-2 scam that has made identity theft victims of thousands of employees nationwide.
“We are warning payroll and human resources professionals to be on guard against identity thieves who are claiming to be company executives who are asking for W-2 information to be emailed in an emailed format,” Thomas added.
Stephen Mankowski, the president of the National Conference of CPA Practitioners, said cybercriminals had been targeting the offices of tax preparers. During the press conference, he outlined various measures tax practitioners were taking to safeguard client data.
“Taxpayers, however also need to remain vigilant in the methods they use to send their data to the tax professionals,” Mankowski explained.
“Rather than simply sending documents via unsecured e-mails, taxpayers should be proactive in how they provide their information by using their tax preparers’ portal or encrypting their data and sending it through an e-mail with it being secured,” he said.
Andrew Goode, vice president of the BBB that serves Washington, D.C., and Eastern Pennsylvania, highlighted the bureau’s Scam Tracker platform for reporting scams. The online tool can be found via bbb.org./scamtracker.
“Last year the BBB received approximately 6,500 Scam Tracker scam reports from individuals regarding con artists claiming to be with the IRS,” Goode said.
“Nationally IRS scams comprised more than 20 percent of all Scam Reports received in 2016. That claimed the title of the number one scam in the country,” he added.
C. Daniel Hassell, secretary for the state Revenue Department, talked about how the state was combating identity theft.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has partnered with the IRS, other state revenue departments and tax industry experts to improve our defenses so that sensitive taxpayer information is protected from scam artists who are trying to file fraudulent tax returns,” he said.
“An important part of this effort is reaching taxpayers, tax preparers and businesses to provide them with the information that will help them protect themselves,” Hassell added.