Avoiding Identity Theft During Tax Season

Friday, March 2, 2018, 6:00 AM | Leave Comment

It’s unlikely for the thief who aims to steal an identity to pay their victim’s taxes. Their usual agenda is to heist the tax return, and it’s becoming more prevalent with each year.

A consumer alert from the IRS reported a 400 percent increase in online phishing and malware attacks during the 2016 U.S. tax season, and this data only scratches the surface of where cyberattacks plague the online world.

Below are suggestions to securing identity and peace of mind for this year’s tax season.

  • Combating Financial Fraud

    It takes more than just installing top-grade cybersecurity software — though that is important — but investing extra caution and research can be the deciding factor on whether one is subjected to financial fraudulence in the digital age. Many people don’t realize they’re insufficiently prepared for identity theft until it happens.

    One of the easiest avenues for cybercriminals is through unsecured networks. Those that file for their tax returns through public networks at places like coffee shops, airports, cafes, etc., are at risk of their private information being compromised.

    These networks, often referred to as “open” networks, are useful for more casual tasks like scrolling through social media, YouTube, or reading blog posts like this one.

    “Closed” networks provide exclusive online access for those that know the network passkey. Closed networks are found in homes and private businesses, which are the safest places to file taxes this season.

    Adhering to secure Wi-Fi standards is, in fact, critical when protecting any personal information. When protecting against identity theft, it’s important to pay particular caution with social security information.

    A SSN should only be given out to a trusted source, and only when absolutely necessary. Never give it out because some business or email asks for it or throw out any documents with a SSN prior to being shredded.

    It’s also wise to regularly check into the Social Security Administration to ensure information is accurate and up to date.

  • Secure Signatures

    As society becomes ever more reliant on digital processes, traditional signatures are also moving on from their primal analog phases. There’s an electronic signature and a digital signature — and according to eSignLive, they work together to form a more secure online signing process — a necessary step in protecting unauthorized signatures from potential online threats.

    The electronic signature is the method, defined by the U.S. Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, of placing an electronic sound, symbol, or process attached to, or associated with, a contract or other record and adopted by a person with the intent to sign a record.

    Simply put, it’s the equivalent of a physical signature of who signed it, what was signed, and that there was intent and consent of the signature.

    The digital signature isn’t necessarily a signature, but refers to the encryption/decryption technology on which an electronic signature solution is built. A digital signature alone is not a type of electronic signature. It instead supports the electronic signature by securing sensitive data, detects any tampering efforts from scammers, and strengthens trust for the signer. Pairing these together creates evidence for a legally binding signature, peace of mind, and a significantly faster workflow.

  • Gone Phishing

    Phishing is type of scam that contacts an individual personally through email to ask for private information. These scammers will claim that they’re from the IRS or a bank that the individual goes through, and try to casually extract a social security number.

    These scammers can be tricky, however, because some of them will have an email that mimics an official email like that of a bank or the IRS. Know that if the IRS actually needed a SSN, they’d never contact someone through email for that information. The IRS won’t call you for that information either; they’ll always send a letter. The same typically goes for banks.

Those that aren’t aware of the dangers that lurk online are the most at risk for identity theft during tax season. Filing taxes online is still a new process, and until it becomes a more regular method of filing and a more monitored process, there will be endless attempts to steal identities. Putting cautionary methods in place and sharing the collective knowledge with friends and family is the next step toward battling identity theft.

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