The combination of the holiday shopping season, the upcoming tax season, and the pandemic create additional opportunities for criminals to steal sensitive personal or finance information.

To help taxpayers and tax professionals, the Security Summit, comprised of the IRS, state tax agencies and the nation’s tax industry, offers 10 basic steps everyone should remember:

  • Don’t forget to use security software for computers, tablets and mobile phones – and keep it updated. Protect electronic devices of family members, especially teens and young children.
  • Make sure anti-virus software for computers has a feature to stop malware, and there is a firewall enabled that can prevent intrusions.
  • Phishing scams – like imposter emails, calls and texts — are the #1 way thieves steal personal data. Don’t open links or attachments on suspicious emails. This year, fraud scams related to COVID-19, Economic Impact Payments and other tax law changes are common.
  • Use strong and unique passwords for online accounts. Use a phrase or series of words that can be easily remembered or use a password manager.
  • Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. Many email providers and social media sites offer this feature. It helps prevent thieves from easily hacking accounts.
  • Shop at sites where the web address begins with “https” – the “s” is for secure communications over the computer network. Also, look for the “padlock” icon in the browser window.
  • Don’t shop on unsecured public Wi-Fi in places like a mall. Remember, thieves can eavesdrop.
  • At home, secure home Wi-Fis with a password. With more homes connected to the web, secured systems become more important, from wireless printers, wireless door locks to wireless thermometers. These can be access points for identity thieves.
  • Back up files on computers and mobile phones. A cloud service or an external hard drive can be used to copy information from computers or phones – providing an important place to recover financial or tax data.
  • Working from home? Consider creating a virtual private network (VPN) to securely connect to your workplace.

Other common warning signs; additional places for information

The IRS and Summit partners continue to see identity thieves trying to look like government agencies and others in the tax community by emailing or texting about tax refunds, stimulus payments or other items. Remember, the IRS will not call or send unexpected texts or emails about things like refunds. More information about these common scams is available at IRS Tax Tip: Common tax scams and tips to help taxpayers avoid them.

In addition, the Summit partners remind people these security measures include mobile phones – an area that people sometimes can overlook. Thieves have become more adept at compromising mobile phones. Phone users also are more prone to open a scam email from their phone than from their computer.

Taxpayers can check out security recommendations for their specific mobile phone by reviewing the Federal Communications Commission’s Smartphone Security Checker. Since phones are used for shopping and even for doing taxes, remember to make sure phones and tablets are just as secure as computers.

Source: IRS.gov/securitysummit

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