How to protect yourself from identity thieves

Published: Dec. 4, 2019 at 7:41 PM EST
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Identity thieves step up their efforts to steal personal data when the holiday shopping season kicks off, and federal officials urge you to be aware of the signs.

IRS officials say protecting your Social Security number is crucial, especially as the 2020 tax season approaches. This week marks National Tax Security Awareness Week.

They say keeping private information out of the hands of cybercriminals is especially important when shopping online.

"In a season of giving, we want folks to keep in mind to look out for friends and family members that might not be as tech savvy as the average person," said Phillip Yamalis, U.S. senior stakeholder liaison with the IRS.

A conference held Wednesday in Charleston outlined clues to detect a scam. Email scams can pretend to be companies with household names, and can even sometimes tell a story in an email to trick people into clicking on a link. Officials with the IRS want to remind people that they do not send unsolicited emails, no matter the topic.

They also are reminding people that they will never call you threatening jail or lawsuits, demanding debit or gift cards, or iTunes gift cards.

"Never ever use gift cards," Yamalis said. "When in doubt, go to the and check if a balance is owed."

The IRS also has tips for shoppers, saying if your identity is stolen, someone could file tax returns in your name. These tips will help protect that valuable information:

  • Use updated security software for devices
  • Use strong, unique passwords
  • Use two-factor authentication
  • Shop on secure websites and look for "https" in the web address. The "s" means the sight is secure.
  • back up files on devices

Yamalis says the best defense is always being careful.

"In the era of data breaches we all need to do what we can to protect our own sensitive financial information so that you do not become a victim," Yamalis said.

There are also places to report scams to the federal and state governments. The U.S. Attorney General spoke at the meeting, expressing how seriously they take these scams. If you believe that an email could be a scam you can simply forward it to, but the most important part of this is doing everything you can to recognize signs of data theft.

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