Pennsylvanians Encouraged to Protect Sensitive Information During Holiday Season

Malicious Cyber ActivityImage via Pixabay

HARRISBURG, PA — With the holiday shopping season underway, the Department of Revenue is encouraging Pennsylvanians to take the appropriate steps to protect their personal information from identity thieves and cybercriminals. These bad actors are constantly working to steal sensitive information, including data that can be used to file fraudulent tax returns and request fraudulent tax refunds.

“We want everyone to know that these criminals are routinely coming up with new schemes to impersonate trustworthy organizations, including government agencies,” Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell said. “They use email, the phone and other tactics as they try to trick you into giving up your passwords or sensitive information. As our partners at the IRS say, don’t take the bait. Be cautious and always be suspicious, particularly of unsolicited messages or calls that you receive.”

This warning comes during the sixth annual National Tax Security Awareness Week, which runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3. This initiative is a partnership between the IRS, state tax agencies and others in the tax industry, including tax professionals, to highlight prevalent scams and encourage people to protect their sensitive financial information. Below are some tips to keep in mind.

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Tips to protect personal and financial information online:

  • Use security software for computers and mobile phones — and keep it updated.
  • Use strong and unique passwords for all accounts.
  • Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible.
  • Shop only secure websites; look for the “https” in web addresses and the padlock icon; avoid shopping on unsecured and public Wi-Fi in places like coffee shops, malls or restaurants.Tips to Avoid Phishing Scams

Identity thieves often use phishing emails to trick users into giving up passwords and other information. Look out for:

  • Emails and other communications that pose as trusted a source, such as imposters stating they are an official from the IRS, Department of Revenue or other government entity.
  • Emails with an urgent message, or instructions to open a link or attachment.
  • Software or apps from pop-up advertising that ask you to download a file.
  • Requests for unusual payment methods.
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Tips for Tax Professionals

In addition to the tips noted above, there are additional signs that tax professionals should be on the lookout for that signal data theft. Here are some common clues shared by the IRS that may suggest a tax professional may be a victim:

  • Client e-filed returns begin to reject because returns with their Social Security numbers were already filed.
  • Clients who haven’t filed tax returns begin to receive authentication letters from the IRS.
  • Clients who haven’t filed tax returns receive refunds.
  • The number of returns filed with tax practitioner’s Electronic Filing Identification Number (EFIN) exceeds number of clients.
  • Network computers running slower than normal.
  • Computer cursors moving or changing numbers without touching the keyboard.
  • Network computers locking out tax practitioners.

Steps to follow if you are a victim of a scam

The Department of Revenue reminds taxpayers that it has a Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit dedicated to assisting victims of identity theft and combating tax refund fraud.

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If you are a victim of identity theft or discover a fraudulent Pennsylvania personal income tax return was filed using your identity, please contact the Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit by emailing [email protected].

For more information on ways to protect yourself, visit Revenue’s Identity Theft Victim Assistance webpage. You can also find further information about protecting yourself online at PA.gov/Cybersecurity.

National Tax Security Awareness Week

As part of National Tax Security Awareness Week, the IRS and its partners are sharing YouTube videos on security steps for taxpayers such as Easy Steps to Protect Your Computer and Phone and how Security Measures Help Protect Against Tax-Related Identity Theft.

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