The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has teamed up with its Security Summit partners to announce the commencement of a special summer campaign aimed at protecting tax professionals and their clients against the rising threats of tax-related identity theft. The “Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself” campaign, now in its eighth year, seeks to strengthen defenses against fraudulent tax returns and raise awareness among tax professionals about the importance of maintaining strong security measures.
Importance of Tax Professional Security
According to IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel, tax professionals play a critical role in safeguarding sensitive financial and tax information. Given their tempting appeal as targets, especially smaller practices, it is essential for tax professionals to stay updated and ensure the safety of their systems. The campaign will run for five consecutive weeks, starting next week, coinciding with the IRS Nationwide Tax Forums in New Orleans.
Collaboration and Information Sharing
The Security Summit coalition, comprising the IRS, state tax agencies, and the tax community, will use the campaign to provide crucial information to tax professionals on how to protect sensitive taxpayer data and secure their businesses from identity thieves. The initiative aligns with the IRS Strategic Operating Plan, emphasizing collaboration with tax professionals and groups like the Security Summit to enhance taxpayer assistance and support national goals.
Key Focus Areas
The Security Summit campaign will focus on fundamental security measures and emerging vulnerabilities. Tax professionals are prime targets for tech-savvy criminal syndicates who either deceive or hack their way into their computer systems to access client data. Even secure platforms like the cloud can become vulnerable without robust authentication.
Protecting Against Identity Theft
Identity thieves exploit stolen data to file fraudulent tax returns, using real financial information that makes detection challenging for the IRS and states. Moreover, stolen tax preparer or taxpayer information is sold on the web, enabling other fraudsters to attempt fraudulent filings. The Security Summit was formed in 2015 to combat identity theft, resulting in significant progress and billions of dollars saved through reduced identity theft returns.
Important Steps for Tax Professionals
The summer campaign will cover key topics, offering tax professionals simple actions to protect their clients and themselves from sensitive data theft. These include:
Create a Security Plan
Tax professionals should develop a Written Information Security Plan (WISP) to keep customer and business information safe. The 28-page WISP, developed by and for tax professionals, is an easy-to-understand document. The Security Summit partners will highlight these plans at each of the five IRS Nationwide Tax Forums this year.
Sign Up Clients for Identity Protection PINs
The IRS now offers Identity Protection PINs (IP PINs) to all taxpayers who can verify their identities online, by phone, or in person. Tax professionals should encourage their clients to obtain an IP PIN through the IRS online tool or by filing Form 15227 for those who cannot validate their identity online.
Be Aware of Phishing Schemes
Tax professionals and taxpayers should be vigilant against phishing scams, which aim to deceive recipients into disclosing personal information. Understanding terms like phishing, spear phishing, and whaling and recognizing the signs of such scams is crucial to preventing data breaches.
Recognize Signs of Identity Theft
Tax professionals should familiarize themselves with signs that indicate identity theft has occurred. These include suspicious IRS letters received by multiple clients requesting confirmation of tax returns, an unusually high number of e-file acknowledgments, and cursor movements on computers that appear to be controlled by external sources.
Help Clients Protect Themselves
Tax professionals can assist their clients in protecting their information while working remotely or traveling. Sharing essential computer security tips and best practices ensures that both tax professionals and their clients remain safe from cyber threats.
Nationwide Tax Forums
To further educate tax professionals, the IRS Nationwide Tax Forums, starting in New Orleans and continuing through August in Atlanta, the Washington, D.C. area, San Diego, and Orlando, will feature sessions on security-related topics. Several sessions will be available in Spanish. This year’s forums will also include a special early morning session on preparing a Written Information Security Plan (WISP), providing tax professionals with practical guidance.
By following these security measures, tax professionals can contribute to the ongoing battle against identity theft and ensure continued progress in protecting taxpayers and their sensitive information.