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With the April 18 tax filing deadline almost a month away, the US Internal Revenue Service has reminded taxpayers to ensure the security of their personal, financial, and tax information.
In the sixth in a series of 10 IRS tips called the Tax Time Guide, designed to help taxpayers navigate common tax issues, the agency urges taxpayers to take personal responsibility for their online security, and reminds them to take steps to help protect personal information and guard against identity theft.
"This is true all year long, but particularly at tax time, when taxpayers may anticipate hearing about a tax refund or the status of their return," the IRS said.
John Koskinen, IRS Commissioner, added: "The IRS works year-round to protect taxpayers against scams and identity theft. But we can't do this alone. Taxpayers can do their part by taking certain precautions to stay ahead of these would-be con artists."
The IRS has given a high priority to data security issues after an increase in recent cases of identify theft and fraudulent tax return claims. However, Congress has criticized the agency for failing to do enough in the past to protect taxpayer information from scammers.
At a US Senate Finance Committee hearing last year, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R – Utah) said that, despite efforts to improve the prevention and detection of fraudulent returns (including the Security Summit initiative between the IRS, states, and the tax preparation industry), "we have also seen unprecedented growth in the scope and scale of cyber-attacks aimed at stealing personal information and billions of dollars from taxpayers."
The largest such attack occurred in May 2015, when the IRS found that unauthorized third parties had obtained sufficient information from a source outside the tax agency to clear a multi-step authentication process to view previous tax returns and other tax records relating to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers, via the Get Transcript system.
However, in its latest series of tips, the IRS said taxpayers can help themselves considerably by treating personal information "like cash – don't hand it out to just anyone."
"Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, bank and utility account numbers can be used to steal money or open new accounts. Every time a taxpayer receives a request for personal information, they should think about whether the request is truly necessary. Scammers will do everything they can to appear trustworthy and legitimate."
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