Protect your personal data during tax time

Friday, March 3, 2017

Have you received one of those "can you hear me now?" calls?

Scammers, supposedly, want to have a recording of you saying "yes" so they can bill you for a product or service you really didn't order.

So far, there are no confirmed cases of that actually happening.

There are plenty of confirmed cases of income tax scams, however, including local taxpayers who found their refunds had already been claimed by criminals, or who accidentally gave personal information to callers claiming to be from the IRS.

It's always dangerous when we have to communicate our personal financial information to others, like we do when we are filing our tax returns.

The CyberScout data security and identity protection firm offers tips to keep our banking accounts and credit cards safe this time of year.

* Use a password-protection WiFi connection when filing your taxes, and use a long, complex password for any accounts you use in filing taxes.

* Use direct deposit to avoid having your mail stolen, or if you must, have it sent to a locked mailbox.

* Ask your tax preparer to use two-level authentication to protect your documents and personal information.

* Store your tax documents on an encrypted USB drive.

And be careful who you let help you prepare your tax return.

The IRS offers a list of common scams that can get taxpayers in trouble if they're not careful.

If a tax preparer makes big promises of tax savings, chances are it's too good to be true. Make sure you use an honest one with an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number and professional credentials.

If in doubt, you can check their background on the IRS website and with the Better Business Bureau.

Always review your return before signing, and never sign a blank one.

* Don't fall for fake charities that may have a name similar to an authentic one, but only want to steal your money. Never give them personal information such as Social Security number or send cash.

* Be skeptical of special rebates, tax credits or other benefits you've never been able to claim before. Fuel tax credit, for instance, is only available for off-highway business use or in farming.

* Remember that you must report all sources of income including wages, awards and gambling winnings. On the other hand, avoid tax preparers who tell you to use your credit card or mortgage debt, bonds or promissory notes to pad your income.

* Tax shelters that sound too good to be true, usually are.

* Frivolous tax arguments like filing taxes is voluntary, only foreign income is taxable or refusing to pay on religious or moral grounds.

* Hiding your money and income in unreported offshore accounts could lead to high fines and prosecution. About $9.9 billion has been collected through the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

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