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Cyber Security During Tax Season

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Tax time word on tax form with calculator, pen, glassesMarch and April usher in several spring-time events: St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, and another annual American ritual — tax time! Unfortunately, tax season is prime time for cyber criminals to strike. The IRS expects more than 150 million individual returns to be filed this year, with four out of five returns (above 80 percent) to be filed electronically. Included within those returns are social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, and financial records for millions of Americans, which leaves the Internet teeming with highly confidential information.

According to a study done by a financial strategy company called Javelin, the total number of identity theft victims in 2015 was 13.1 million, totaling $15 billion. In its most recent report, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed that, in 2014, they received more than 2.58 million reports of consumer fraud. Among fraud complaints:Online Tax Fraud, computer keyboard and yellow warning sign

  • The average amount lost by alleged victims was approximately $2,000.
  • The median figure of loss was about $500.
  • In total, approximately $1.7 billion was lost by self-reported victims of fraud.
  • The most common methods of initial contact by fraud perpetrators was telephone (54%) and email (23%).

If you electronically file your taxes, here are some tips to help keep your data safe:IRS Scam

  • Vet the provider who electronically files your return. Authorized e-filers are registered on the IRS website at gov.
  • Monitor your social media presence. Google yourself to uncover any bogus Facebook, or LinkedIn information using your name.
  • Beware of scam Facebook messages. Clicking on a tax-related link in your newsfeed may be convenient. But it could connect you to a phishing site.
  • Optimize your security. Use the latest, most comprehensive firewalls, anti-spam/virus software. Also, update security patches and choose strong passwords to protect your online return. When possible, enable two-step authentication, which adds an additional security step required for login. Here is a link to comprehensive instructions for installing two-step authentication on a variety of computer platforms: org/2stepsahead/resources.
  • File your tax return ONLY on secure HTTPS sites. These encrypted sites will safeguard your information.
  • Beware of Wi-Fi hotspots. If you need to access a bank account while you are out, don’t use public Internet service. Cyber criminals can potentially intercept Internet connections while you are filing highly personal information. Don’t do anything relative to your taxes while using public Wi-Fi. Experian reports that seven percent of people do their taxes while logged into unsecured networks.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. Links in emails could direct your computer to malicious sites. If an email appears weird, even if you recognize the sender, delete it.
  • Carefully screen emails that appear to have come from your bank. If they do not contain your financial institution’s website domain name, immediately report the breach to your bank.
  • Shred documents that contain personal data. Doing so is worth the hassle, because many criminals dig through trash cans in search of sensitive information.
  • Don’t respond to emails claiming to be from the IRS. The IRS does not contact people by email.
  • Never download documents from or click on links in tax-related emails. One click could unleash information-gathering malware on your computer.
  • Refrain from doing tax-related research using your web browser. You could be lured to a malicious site.

April 18 written on a calendar to remind you an important appoinThis year, taxes must be filed by April 18, because Emancipation Day falls on the regular deadline of April 15. So take the extra few days to make sure you are cyber safe. Remember that Internet safety is a daily priority, not just during tax season. So be sure to think about ways to #BeSafe all of the time. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

How to #BeSafe during Tax Season

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

taxesSince the majority of consumers take advantage of e-filing, tax preparation fraud is at an all-time high. Although your personal information is at risk if you use the Internet at all (because it is basically floating around in Cyberspace), your risk increases exponentially if you fail to practice due diligence when selecting an accounting firm. Beware that nearly anyone can hang a shingle or put up a quick website, offering to inexpensively do your taxes and maximize your refund.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen warns taxpayers, “Filing a tax return can be one of the biggest financial transactions of the year, so taxpayers should choose their tax return preparers carefully. Most tax professionals provide top-notch service, but we see bad actors every year that steal from their clients or compromise returns in ways that can severely harm taxpayers.”

Since about 60 percent of people file returns prepared by an official agent, reputable tax preparation firms are a vital part of the U.S. tax system. But it is important to note that taxpayers are legally responsible for what is on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. So make sure the preparer you hire is up to the task.taxes 6

If you plan to hire someone to file for you, minimize your risk of fraud, by applying these 10 tips when choosing a tax preparer:

  1. Make sure your preparer has an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Anyone with a valid 2015 PTIN is authorized to prepare federal tax returns. Ensure the preparer signs and includes their PTIN with your completed return.
  2. Ask to see credentials. Although professional certification is not necessary, your preparer should be either an enrolled agent, certified public accountant, attorney, belong to a professional organization, or attend continuing education classes. A number of tax law changes, including the Affordable Care Act provisions, can be complex. Therefore, only a competent tax professional will be up-to-date in such matters.
  3. Clarify service fees upfront. Avoid preparers who base theirs fee on a percentage of your refund. Also, steer clear of anyone who says they can get you a larger refund than others. If your taxes are prepared properly and honestly, your refund will be the same no matter who prepares it.
  4. Designate refunds to be sent to you or deposited directly into your bank account. Don’t allow funds to be deposited into a preparer’s bank account.
  5. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file and request your return be submitted to the IRS electronically. Doing so is the safest and most accurate way to file a return, whether you do it alone or pay someone to prepare and file for you.
  6. Make sure the preparer will be available in case you have questions. You should be able to contact the tax preparer after you file your return – even after the April 15 due date.
  7. Provide records and receipts. Qualified preparers will ask to see your records and receipts. They will also ask questions to determine your total income, deductions, tax credits and other items. Do not rely on a preparer who is willing to e-file your return using your last pay stub instead of your Form W-2, which is against IRS e-file rules.
  8. Don’t sign an incomplete or blank return.
  9. Review your return before signing. Make sure you’re comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.
  10. Report abusive tax preparers to the IRS. You can report abusive tax return preparers and suspected tax fraud to the IRS. Use Form 14157, Complaint: Tax Return Preparer, which is available at IRS.gov.

taxes 2To find other tips about choosing a preparer, better understand the differences in credentials and qualifications, and learn how to submit a complaint regarding a tax return preparer, visit Irs.gov/ChooseATaxPro.

We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to be safe during tax time and all year long. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit rjwestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.