You might not be thinking about your 2017 tax returns yet. But the IRS is. So are crooks intent on stealing your refund. And your identity.
So what’s Uncle Sam doing about it?
Nov. 27 through Dec.2 is National Tax Security Awareness week. The government is working with state tax officials and tax preparation companies to protect consumers from fraud and identity theft. IRS spokesman Luis Garcia says the goal is to stay one step ahead of hackers.
“We’ve set up a number of different algorithms, a number of different protocols to make sure that we find how these guys operate and how to stop them, and it’s working,” Garcia says.
The numbers appear to back him up. In 2016, the IRS reported a 37 percent drop in bogus tax return filings from the previous year. Through August 2017, the rate has dropped another 30 percent. The agency says the number of taxpayers whose identities were stolen has dropped from almost 700,000 in 2015 to fewer than 200,000 now. Garcia says that’s a huge dent in the problem. but protecting personal information is always a challenge.
“Criminals are constantly attacking, whether it’s your individual account, your tax preparer, or your employer,” Garcia says. “They’re going everywhere they can to find this personal information, 365 days a year, not just during tax season.”
What can you do?
The IRS says taxpayers should also take steps to protect their information.
- Use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections.
- Encrypt tax records and other sensitive files.
- Use strong passwords
- Don’t use unprotected Wi-Fi.
Garcia reminds taxpayers the IRS will never threaten someone or demand immediate payment over the phone. Nor will it insist on a certain payment method.
“We don’t accept iTunes cards, just so you know,” Garcia says.
A new tool.
Starting in 2018, the IRS will issue verification codes on about 66 million W-2 forms. Garcia says it’s another layer of security to protect taxpayers. He says anyone who gets one of these 16-digit numbers should use it when filing their returns.
“If you don’t use it, we don’t know whether that’s a genuine W-2,” Garcia says. “And it may delay your refund.”
The deadline to file 2017 income taxes is April 17, 2018.