Tips for keeping your financial information secure

 Peter G. Robbins, The Daily Record Newswire

It’s tax time! And along with tax returns and e-filing and W-2s and 1099s, we also have to be worried about all those rascals that want to get hold of your name, Social Security number, and other personal information to be used for ill-begotten gains. Wouldn’t it be nice if these amazingly smart and technologically savvy people used all that brainpower for some good purpose?

So today, in honor of tax season and recent news of debit and credit card theft, rather than answering a question, I am going to ask one:

What are you doing to protect yourself against tax scams and identity theft?

Being a frequent visitor to irs.gov and also being a fan of the Internal Revenue Service’s YouTube videos and podcasts, I am doing a lot to protect myself. In fact, the IRS recently released a Special Edition Tax Tip on this very issue that I eagerly read. I have taken several steps to protect myself.

First, I know that the IRS does not use email to contact taxpayers. Any email that I get that appears to be from the IRS is a phony. While it is easiest to just delete these emails, I always forward them to phishing@irs.gov in hopes that the crook will get caught. And I never open any attachments on these emails. The same holds true for other forms of electronic communication, such as text messages and Facebook or other social media posts.

Second, I heard about a new phone scam where the caller claims to be from the IRS. Even caller ID seems to indicate that the call is from the Internal Revenue Service. The phony IRS agent insists that I need to pay some tax immediately via a preloaded debit card or wire transfer. Sometimes I have heard that the caller even becomes hostile and states that the local authorities will be contacted to arrest me, deport me or take my driver’s license. If this ever happens to me, I will immediately call the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484 and also contact the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.

I know the IRS never asks for personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords or access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. If I were to ever get behind on my taxes, the IRS may request limited financial information to set up a payment plan, but I will make sure that I work though a knowledgeable professional should that happen.

Third, I read the list of suggestions in the recent IRS Tax Tip to protect against scams and identity theft. That list motivated me to do the following:

• to never carry my Social Security card or other document that contains my Social Security number in my purse or wallet

• to never give a business my Social Security Number unless it is required and I know the business with which I am dealing

• to always protect my financial information

• to check my credit report every 12 months and act on any discrepancies

• to keep all of my personal and financial information in my home secure

• to keep my home computer safe by using firewalls and virus protection, updating virus definitions frequently, and changing passwords on a regular basis

• to never provide personal or financial information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless I have initiated the contact and am sure of the integrity of the recipient

And finally, I will use only a reputable tax return preparer. I know that I am ultimately responsible for my tax return and liable for all the tax, plus any interest and penalties that might be assessed. I know that most tax return preparers are upright citizens, but there are a few scoundrels out there.

While I’ve had a little fun with this article, this information really is very important to keep in mind as you file your tax return. And, yes, I do know a very reputable tax return preparer!

To ensure compliance imposed by IRS Circular 230, any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this article is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by governmental tax authorities. The answers in this column are meant to offer general information. You should consult your tax adviser regarding the specifics of your situation.

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Peter Robbins is a partner in the Boise office of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, specializing in tax matters for small businesses, individuals, and trusts and estates. He can be reached at news@idahobusinessreview.com.

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