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IRS Wants Your Clients to Think About Cybersecurity

The next installment of the Internal Revenue Service’s National Work and Family Month press releases covers data security advice for taxpayers. While aimed at individuals, the press release contains information that tax professionals will want to pass along to their clients.

At first blush, it might seem like providing “IT advice” is outside the scope of the job. The reality is that helping spread data-security awareness is an essential part of any financial-planning consultation. Just consider the havoc that tax-related identity theft can cause for your clients’ individual finances.

Running through the list provided by the IRS will give you a head start in advising clients on some data security best practices. While tax-related identity theft is perpetrated using a wide variety of tactics, the press release focuses on strategies taxpayers can use to protect their data while using online platforms and services.

After all, the number of taxpayers (and their teenage dependents) who use smartphones for online banking, email, and social media is growing. That means it’s essential to help clients learn to identify and avoid the digital threats their families face every day.

Here are the “staying safe online” tips compiled by the IRS:

  • Remind them why security is important. People of all ages should not reveal too much information about themselves. Keeping data secure and only providing what is necessary minimizes online exposure to scammers and criminals. Birthdates, addresses, age and especially Social Security numbers are among things that should not be shared freely.
  • Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Make sure the security software is always turned on and can automatically update. Encrypt sensitive files such as tax records stored on computers. Use strong, unique passwords for each account. Be sure all family members have comprehensive protection especially if devices are being shared.
  • Teach them to recognize and avoid scams.Phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts from thieves posing as IRS or from legitimate organizations pose risks. Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
  • Protect personal data. Don’t routinely carry a Social Security card. Keep it at home. Be sure any financial records are secure. Advise children and teens to shop at reputable online retailers. Treat personal information like cash; don’t leave it lying around.
  • Connection to Wi-Fi in a mall or coffee shop is convenient but it may not be safe. Hackers and cybercriminals can easily intercept personal information. Always use a virtual private network when connecting to public Wi-Fi.
  • To learn more about National Work and Family month, visit IRS.gov.

    Source: IR-2019-175

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