The St. Louis branch of the IRS is urging Missouri residents to be watchful of predators looking to cash in on your identity during to the holiday season. Spokesperson Michael Devine says there are easy ways to safeguard your identity when shopping online.
“Check the URL at the top,” said Devine. “It should say “https” to show that it’s secure. If you get emails from someone that asks for your personal and financial information, don’t necessarily click on that link. It could infect your computer.” He suggests you offer only the last for digits of your social security number, if any at all.
The IRS has partnered with the Springfield Better Business Bureau in a campaign to urge Missourians to protect their tax data and their identities.
According to the Deloitte survey, Online spending is expected to exceed in-store sales for the first time this holiday season, by a 51%-to-42% margin. Devine says shoppers are better advised to seek out a retailer’s website by doing a search, rather than clicking a link in an online ad which could be compromised.
“You don’t want to be chasing that sale and give up all of your personal and financial information. That’s why you need to have good software protection, malware on your computer.”
The IRS offer several suggestions to safeguard sensitive information. Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Make sure the security software is always turned on and will automatically update. Encrypt sensitive files such as tax records stored on computers. Also, use strong passwords.
IRS criminal investigators and the U.S. Treasury Department are charged with tracking down identity thieves who file fraudulent tax returns. Devine claims the IRS has never been breached and contends e-filing tax returns is completely secure.
Because they’ve had no success breaching the government, Devine says criminals have turned to schemes involving private businesses. A year-round problem the IRS deals will is company payroll departments that are victimized by identity thieves posing as management.
A payroll employee will get an email from what appears to be a high-ranking executive asking for a copy of every employee’s W-2 form for the purpose of conducting a manual review. Devine says criminals are now going after source documents such as W-2 and 1099 forms that people use to create their tax returns.
There have been numerous instances where thieves have accessed the tax documents of businesses that employ hundreds of people, and then filed fraudulent returns.
Devine thinks it’s important to protect your personal information by storing it electronically. He advises against carrying hard copies of social security cards or storing tax documents in obvious places at home.
“Hopefully it’s not sitting on a shelf where if you’re the victim of a burglary, they can see a big shoe box that says, “tax stuff”, Devine said. “They’ll take that box because they’ll have all of your information.”
The IRS reports that the number of people reporting they were victims of identity theft fell to 376,000 in 2016, a 46 percent decline from 699,000 in 2015. So far in 2017, the downward trend has continued. Though August, there were 189,000 taxpayers who reported themselves as identity theft victims, a drop of roughly 40 percent from the same time a year ago.