written by Michael Wirth

With the start of a new year comes the time for all individuals to begin gathering information about the prior year file tax returns.

This process includes communicating personally identifiable, sensitive data with your tax preparer in order to file returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Whitlock Company would like to remind you of the ever increasing threat of identity theft, as thieves are constantly looking for new ways to steal information and use it to their advantage. Several major companies have had significant data breaches recently occur: Anthem, Sony, Staples, Home Depot, Kmart, and JP Morgan just to name a few.

Hackers and other identity thieves could use information they have obtained in a variety of ways including filing false tax returns in your name, selling your personal information to other identity thieves, and/or contacting you directly and requesting financial information.

First and foremost, please remember the following. The IRS does not:

  • Initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.
  • Request detailed personal information through email.
  • Send any communication requesting your PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.

If you receive any suspicious IRS-related communication:

  • Do not reply.
  • Do not open any attachments, or click on any links.
  • Forward the message as-is, to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov
  • After forwarding the message to the IRS, delete the original email message that you received.

If you receive a phone call, ask for a call back number and an employee badge number. You may also call the IRS back to determine if the caller is an IRS employee with a legitimate need to contact you. If you receive a letter via paper mail, contact the IRS to determine if the mail is a legitimate IRS letter.

What can you do to help protect yourself from identity theft?

  • Don’t carry your Social Security card or any document(s) with your SSN on it.
  • Don’t give a business your SSN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
  • Protect your financial information.
  • Check your credit report every 12 months.
  • Secure personal information in your home.
  • Protect your personal computers by using firewalls, anti-spam/virus software, update security patches, and change passwords for Internet accounts.
  • Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.
  • Review checking account and credit card statements for unusual activity.

If you have become a victim of identity theft, or suspect that your personally identifiable information has been jeopardized, please contact us immediately. As always, The Whitlock Company is here to help you with any questions regarding tax matters, the safety or your identity, or the authenticity of any IRS communications.