Here’s what you need to know about tax record hacking
It’s hard not to freak out when you hear that 104,000 U.S. taxpayers have had their records hacked, making it possible for thieves to file fake tax returns and possibly even steal your refund.
But please don’t panic. Here’s some helpful perspective on the recent news reports and how the situation may or may not affect you.
What actually happened?
Hackers gained access to past tax returns of the affected individuals via the IRS web function known as “Get Transcript.” Seeing a surge in download requests, the IRS temporarily shut down this function in an effort to prevent further problems.
However, as IRS officials have explained, the hackers needed personal information such as Social Security numbers and relevant passwords to access past returns. This means the affected taxpayers have suffered what the IRS calls a “modified form” of identity theft. Somehow, somewhere, the fraudsters obtained this information and used it to pose as legitimate taxpayers.
According to news reports, most of the victims used TurboTax to prepare past returns. Intuit, the company behind TurboTax, has said that its systems have not been breached, so the situation remains unclear.
Putting the news in perspective
Clearly, you’re not a TurboTax user, which may relieve some of your anxiety. And if you have been following the steps we all need to take to keep private information safe, that’s helpful too. These include:
- Knowing how to spot phishing scams. Here are useful tips from Microsoft.
- Using unique passwords for each online account, or, better yet, a password manager.
- NEVER sharing personal information with someone whose identity you can’t confirm.
- Giving sensitive information only when necessary, and in those cases, avoiding the use of email and text, since data may be viewed in transit.
As you know, we are deeply committed to the security of all information you share with us.
What if …?
In a perfect world, none of this would be happening, but risks will always exist. If you do receive a notice from the IRS that your records have been compromised, you will need to file an Identity Theft Affidavit. This step is aimed at preventing scammers from using any information they may have gained to file a fraudulent return in your name.
This article from the Washington Post lists other steps you should take if your tax records have been downloaded. They include checking your credit report for suspicious activity, changing your passwords and being wary of brand-new scams that fraudsters may launch in the wake of the hacking scare.
This last point is an important one. Experts say that scammers kick into high gear when the public’s fears have been aroused. Perpetrators may even pose as IRS agents seeking to resolve a problem. But please remember that the IRS does not ask for personal information via electronic communication, including email, text or social media post. Similarly, calls or letters from someone other than the IRS claiming there is a problem with your taxes may be a scam. You can report any incident of attempted fraud to the IRS at 800-908-4490.
Worried? We’re here for you
If you’re still freaked out, we understand. Security of your private information is of the utmost importance. Feel free to contact us with additional questions you may have.