Catherine M. Censullo, CPA
Total Control Money and Tax Tip


The latest identity theft incident involving taxpayer information had nothing to do with computer hacking. Rather, it involved entering stolen information into the IRS website to obtain your tax transcripts from the IRS online website. These tax transcripts contain detailed information about the data used to file your prior year returns. This data was obtained from 104,000 households.

You may be thinking, “Why would someone want the data from my previously filed returns?” The thieves are using this data to file fraudulent returns before you do and collect bogus refunds to which they are not entitled.

That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? So, where are these thieves getting this information?

Social media is a common place to find out personal information that may be used in a security question. Be careful not to make personal information public. Remember that what you say and show on Facebook can be obtained by just about anyone. 

Even if you don’t use social media, there are other ways for people to access your personal information. And there are data bases that generate reports that tap into external public data about you. So, you may be saying, what can I do to prevent this? 

I am extremely security conscious, so, in addition to working diligently to protect my clients’ data, here are some things I recommend that you do to protect your information as well:

  • Limit the personal information you provide on social media.
  • Don’t provide your Social Security number on medical office questionnaires.
  • Don’t give a copy of your driver’s license to medical offices when requested.
  • Don’t participate in surveys that request your personal information or opinions.
  • Shred your mail before it is discarded.
  • Provide only your most essential online personal information at online websites such as name, shipping address, and e-mail address.
  • Limit your use of public ATM and credit card machines and cover the keypads if you must enter a PIN so that it cannot be photographed.
  • Cover your credit card information, driver’s license information, etc., when accessing them in public places such as airports, so that they cannot be photographed by someone nearby.
  • Never state your personal information in public places where someone else may overhear it.
  • Put difficult passwords on your cell phone and mobile devices so that they cannot be used without first entering the correct password.
  • Use strong antivirus software that allows you to erase the data on your mobile devices should they be stolen.
  • Use different passwords for different systems and try to use difficult passwords to replicate.
  • Change your passwords frequently.
  • Do not respond to telephone or e-mail requests for your personal information.
  • Monitor your bank account and credit card account transactions for any unidentified purchases or debits.
  • Check your credit report periodically for accuracy.

I always try to think, "Is there anything I overlooked?" Do you think about this, too? For instance, my husband and I walked out of an urgent care center when they refused to treat him unless they made a copy of his driver’s license. When a pharmacy asked me for my date of birth to pick up a prescription, I showed them my date of birth on my driver's license rather than state it out loud where someone else could hear it.

You can now even purchase stainless steel wallets that hackers cannot penetrate to pull data from your credit cards.

So, what do you do if you are one of these victims? The IRS will notify you if they are aware of the breach and ask you to verify your identity online. You may need to file a paper return if a fraudulent return was filed in your name. The IRS is providing free credit monitoring services for identified victims. Check your credit reports for any suspicious activity as a result of the information stolen.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call and set up an appointment.

Catherine M. Censullo, CPA

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