April is upon us, which means the deadline for filing your federal taxes is fast approaching. It’s also a time to ensure you’re properly safeguarding your identity and personal financial information. Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to identity theft, and scams and phishing schemes are particularly prevalent during tax season. Last year alone, identity theft resulted in $37 billion in fraudulent activity, according to one research firm.
If you are one of the 99 million Americans planning to file your taxes online, it’s important to understand the risks and practice safe online habits. New account fraud, where information is stolen and used to open bank of credit card accounts in a person’s name without their knowledge, is the most common form of identity fraud.
The good news is that there are a number of simple and common sense steps you can take to protect your identity and keep your information secure online. DHS’ Stop. Think. Connect. campaign recommends the following steps to ensure your information stays safe while filing taxes online:
• STOP and consider who you are providing your information to and exactly where it is going. If you are using an online tax service, is it from a reputable company? Beware of phony tax sites and IRS-impersonation scams designed to get you to hand over sensitive information.
• THINK about what a web service is offering and how you found it. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• CONNECT with the confidence of knowing that you have taken the necessary steps to file your taxes safely and securely online, while protecting your information and your identity.
The IRS does not initiate correspondence through e-mail. If you receive an e-mail saying it is from the IRS, do not click on any links or respond. Instead, forward it to email@example.com and delete it from your inbox. The official website for the IRS is http://www.irs.gov/, and all IRS web page addresses begin with this address. Consult with commercial tax preparation services for information on how to verify you are using one of their products.
Even after the April 18 tax filing deadline has come and gone, it’s important to remain vigilant about online security and stop and think before providing your personal information on the Internet.
For more information on how you can help protect yourself from becoming a victim of a cyber attack or cyber crime and how to get involved with DHS’ Stop. Think. Connect. campaign, visit www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect. For information from the IRS on avoiding tax fraud and scams, visit http://www.irs.gov/compliance/enforcement/article/0,,id=121259,00.html.