IRS, Security Summit announce special summer series as Nationwide Tax Forums begin; tax pros should remain vigilant against identity theft amid continued threats

IR-2023-124, July 11, 2023

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service joins its Security Summit partners today to announce the start of a special summer "Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself" campaign aimed at ensuring tax professionals stay alert against new and ongoing threats of tax-related identity theft.

"The Security Summit plays a key role in protecting federal and state tax filings from identity thieves. Their work continues to strengthen our systems against fraudulent tax returns," said IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel. "Tax professionals also form a critical part of our defenses. The sensitive financial and tax information they hold is a tempting target. It's critical that those handling sensitive tax information, especially smaller practices, stay current and keep their systems safe."

The Summit coalition of the IRS, state tax agencies and the nation's tax community will start the annual summer series next week to raise awareness among tax professionals about the importance of maintaining strong security. The series will run for five consecutive weeks each Tuesday, coinciding with the start of the IRS Nationwide Tax Forums today in New Orleans. The news release series and the summer Tax Forums will provide important information to help protect sensitive taxpayer data that tax professionals hold while also protecting their business from identity thieves.

This marks the eighth year that the Security Summit partners have worked to raise awareness about these issues through the "Protect Your Clients; Protect Yourself" campaign.

Building stronger connections with tax professionals and increasing collaboration with groups like the Security Summit are part of the transformation effort outlined in the new IRS Strategic Operating Plan.

The 10-year plan, unveiled in April, highlights areas in which the IRS will be working to make improvements to help taxpayers, tax professionals and the nation.

By taking some basic security steps, tax pros can help protect themselves against the relentless efforts of identity thieves. This summer's effort focuses on a reminder for tax pros to focus on fundamentals and to watch out for emerging vulnerabilities.

Tax professionals are prime targets of criminal syndicates that are both tech- and tax-savvy. These scammers either trick or hack their way into tax professionals' computer systems to access client data. Even when tax pros think they have client data stored in a secure platform, such as the cloud, lack of strong authentication can make this information vulnerable.

Identity thieves use stolen data to file fraudulent tax returns that make it more difficult for the IRS and the states to detect because the fraudulent returns use real financial information. Other data thieves sell the basic tax preparer or taxpayer information on the web so other fraudsters can try filing fraudulent tax returns.

The Security Summit formed in 2015 to join the fight against identity theft. The Summit partners have made great inroads against tax-related identity theft, dramatically reducing confirmed identity theft returns and saving billions in tax dollars during the course of the collaborative effort.

The summer Security Summit tax pro campaign will cover these key topics that will highlight a series of simple actions that tax professionals can take to better protect their clients and themselves from sensitive data theft. Taking these steps now will help ensure the progress in tax-related identity theft continues.

  • Create a security plan. The Written Information Security Plan PDF, or WISP, is a 28-page, easy-to-understand document developed by and for tax and industry professionals to keep customer and business information safe and secure. Security Summit partners, including tax professionals, software and industry partners, representatives from state tax groups and the IRS developed the WISP. The Summit partnership 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 IP PINs to all taxpayers who can verify their identities online, on the phone with an IRS employee after filing a Form 15227 or in person. To obtain an IP PIN, the best option is the IRS online tool Get an IP PIN Before attempting this thorough process, see How to Register for Certain Online Self-Help Tools. If taxpayers are unable to validate their identity online and if their income is below $73,000 for individuals or below $146,000 for married couples, they may file Form 15227, Application for an Identity Protection Personal Identification Number PDF.
  • Phishing, Spear phishing and Whaling. These aren't summer activities; these are real cyber schemes that put sensitive information at risk. Tax pros are a common, everyday target of phishing scams designed to trick the recipient into disclosing personal information such as passwords, bank account numbers, credit card numbers or Social Security numbers. Tax professionals, and taxpayers, should be aware of different phishing terms and what the scams might look like.
  • Know the tell-tale signs of identity theft. Many tax professionals who report data theft to the IRS also say they were unaware of signs that a theft had already occurred. There are many signs for which tax pros should watch. These include: multiple clients suddenly receiving suspicious IRS letters requesting confirmation that they filed a tax return; tax professionals seeing e-file acknowledgements for far more tax returns than they filed; and tax pros' computer cursors moving seemingly on their own.
  • Help clients protect themselves whether working from home or traveling. With the continuation of work-from-home policies for many organizations, taxpayers may find themselves conducting their affairs – whether personal, business or financial – in a different way. Tax pros can help their clients protect themselves by sharing key bits of information on computer security. These cyber-smart tactics protect not only the tax professional, but also their clients.

2023 Nationwide Tax Forums

In addition to the series of five news releases, the tax professional security focus will be featured at this summer's Nationwide Tax Forums. The forums begin today in New Orleans, and will continue through August in Atlanta, the Washington, D.C. area., San Diego and Orlando. The IRS reminds tax pros that registration deadlines are quickly approaching for several of the forums.

The forums will feature several specific sessions to help educate the tax professional community on security-related topics. Several sessions will be available in Spanish.

This year's forums will also include a special early morning session to help tax pros understand how to prepare a Written Information Security Plan PDF, or WISP. Working together, the Security Summit tax professional working group members created a sample WISP to help their colleagues.

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