Don’t Let Tax Fraud Ruin Your IRS Refund
Here’s how to lock down your data this tax season
Tax season is always a high time for scams that put our money and information at risk. But this year securing your data may be more important than ever, due to a spike in unemployment fraud.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs over the course of the pandemic, and states have seen a surge in unemployment applications, including fake claims using stolen information. In California, authorities report that between $10 billion and $30 billion was recently paid in fraudulent unemployment claims, while in New York authorities identified $5.5 billion in fake jobless claims since March of 2020.
ictims don’t even know that their information was used for a fraudulent claim until they receive an unemployment letter from their state, or a tax form from the IRS. Whether you’re concerned about your personal data, or just want to safely file your IRS return and hopefully get a tax refund, let’s take some steps to protect your private information for this tax season, and beyond.
The first thing to know is that there are a that we see evolving each year – according to the IRS, Criminal Investigation identified $2.3 billion in tax fraud schemes just last year. So, it’s always a good idea to take caution and be skeptical whenever you see something that seems too good to be true, like a free tax filing service you’ve never heard of before.
But recently, with so many people out of work, bad actors have decided to focus their attention on filing fraudulent jobless claims using stolen information from people who were actually employed.
Think You May Be a Victim of Tax Fraud?
If you’ve received a notice about unemployment benefits that you never applied for, contact your state unemployment agency and submit a claim. Then follow up with the Federal Trade Commission since they can help you by placing a fraud alert on your credit. This lets lenders know that you may be a victim of fraud, prompting them to take extra steps to verify your identity. The good news is that in the U.S. you only have to notify one of the three national credit bureaus and they will transmit your request to the other two.
My colleague Judy has shared some easy ways you can check your credit report and even freeze your credit in a blog post here. Starting 2021, you can also register for a six-digit Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) with the IRS to add another layer of verification to protect yourself from tax-related identity theft.
How to Keep Your Private Information Safe This Tax Season and Year-Round
Of course, tax season isn’t the only time your data can fall into the wrong hands. Keep your personal information safe by adopting these best practices and robust tools.
• Use comprehensive security software—For protection against the growing range of threats, choose holistic security software that goes beyond traditional antivirus products, by protecting your identity and privacy wherever and however you connect.
- Search and surf safely—Whether you are looking for tax information, or ways to file your return online, be careful where you click. A tool like McAfee® WebAdvisor included in McAfee Total Protection can help you avoid dangerous websites and risky links by warning you about them in the search results, before you click.
- Double down on password protection—Besides online scams, data breaches are another main way that the bad guys get their hands on your personal information. That’s why you need unique and strong passwords for each of your sensitive accounts. This way, if your password is obtained through a data breach, it cannot be used to gain entry to your other accounts. The easiest way to do this is to employ a password manager, like the one included in McAfee Total Protection, which can create and remember complicated passwords for you, and save them across all of your devices.
- Protect your privacy—Take the stress out of monitoring your data by using a tech tool like our new privacy and identity protection app, available in the U.S. It can alert you if your personal information has been shared on the dark web, where cybercriminals buy and sell information. We’ll help you immediately change the passwords on compromised accounts. It also includes a virtual private network, which allows you to safely and easily connect to the internet, shielding your private information from prying eyes.
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