California State Board of Equalization (BOE) Chairman and Franchise Tax Board (FTB) Member Jerome E. Horton is advising taxpayers to take a few simple steps to keep from being preyed upon by data thieves and cyber criminals.
“I stand with the Internal Revenue Service and other state tax agencies throughout our great nation in encouraging California taxpayers to follow safeguards for protecting their information,” said Horton. “Criminals have access to a good deal of personal data which they can use to file fraudulent returns. I urge you to become aware of security measures you can take online and at home to protect your data from cyber criminals.”
“Identity thieves are evolving, and so must we,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The IRS, the states, and the tax industry are putting in place even tougher safeguards, but we need the public’s help. We need people to join with us and take an active role in protecting their personal and financial data from thieves.”
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourselves:
* Use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Use automatic updates. Encrypt your tax returns and other sensitive data. Use strong passwords.
* Beware of phishing emails. Are you expecting a message from your bank or tax software company to update your account? A link may take you to a fake website that is designed to steal your log-on information. The attachment you open may include a virus or malware that allows a thief to get into your sensitive files.
* Beware of phone scams. If you get a call from an aggressive or belligerent person who says you will be sued or jailed if you don’t make an immediate payment, this is a scam. The BOE will have sent letters before you receive a phone call, which would only be to discuss payment options.
* If you want to make sure a call to collect a BOE or FTB debt is legitimate, you can call BOE, (800) 400-7335; or FTB, (800) 852-5711.
Here are additional tips to protect you from scam artists:
* These callers may demand money or say you have a refund due and try to trick you into sharing private information. The con artists can sound convincing when they call.
* They may know a lot about you, and they usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.
* They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request.
“We urge people not to be deceived by these threatening phone calls,” said Koskinen. “We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry shakedown calls are not how we do business.”
The IRS reminds people that they can know pretty easily when a supposed IRS caller is a fake. Here are five things the scammers often do, but the IRS will not:
* Call to demand immediate payment or call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
* Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
* Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
* Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
* Threaten to bring in the police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
What to do
The IRS does not use unsolicited e-mail, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issues. If someone claiming to be from the IRS asks for money, here are three things you can do:
1. If you know you owe taxes or think you might, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040.
2. If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) at (800) 366-4484 or at www.tigta.gov. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission’s “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov.
3. Get help from a licensed tax professional. Enrolled agents (EAs) are America’s tax experts. They are the only federally licensed tax practitioners who specialize in taxation and also have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS. If you are audited by the IRS, an EA can advocate on your behalf.