You may remember the commercials from 2006, where the guy awkwardly whispered his password "Big Boy" in crowded places. These days, using a password like Big Boy isn't just a bad idea, in most cases where a password is required "Big Boy" wouldn't offer much protection or even hold up to the strict guidelines.
When you consider the number of well-known celebrities that have had their identities stolen or accounts hacked, it is important to heed all the warnings we hear and be vigilant about protecting personally identifiable information (PII) with strong passwords. High-profile folks have access to oodles of security tactics, yet they still fall victim. Take Tiger Woods-an identity thief used his SSN and birthdate to obtain a credit card in his real name, "Eldrick," and went on a shopping spree, including a luxury automobile. And it's not only Tiger, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Michael Bloomberg, and even first lady, Michelle Obama, have been victims of identity theft in one form or another. If it can happen to them, it can happen to any one of us who happens to be lesser known and likely has fewer security measures readily available.
Most people have dozens of accounts needing passwords and each system typically has its own requirements; some need a capital letter, others require a number or special character, and yet others require a combination. Becoming more common is an automatic requirement that mandates a change in password every few weeks. Meeting requirements is one thing, but for better protection you should have different passwords for every site you use, according to Paul Vlissidis, Chief Security Officer of NCC Group: "Having the same password for different accounts is the equivalent of locking all your doors and windows but then leaving the keys under the doormat." At this point, passwords are almost as complicated as taxes - okay, maybe not that complicated, but it isn't easy setting and remembering a good one.
There are a few things you can do to help keep your information:
• Use complicated, different passwords for your online accounts and change them often.
• Review your credit report consistently; look for strange inquiries or suspicious activity.
• Avoid shopping or logging into your personal accounts while using public Wi-Fi.
• Encrypt and password-protect your home Wi-Fi.
• Shred all documents with PII before you throw them away.
• Respond to letters from the IRS, your bank, or other financial institutions immediately by calling them directly; verify the phone number you are using before you call.
• Verify the origin of any email or telephone call you receive; the IRS will never call you or email you about tax-related issues.
You can't be overly cautious when it comes to protecting yourself against scammers, it seems every advance in identity theft protection systems seems to be met with another scam. Just last week the IRS tweeted "#IRS warns taxpayers of summer surge in automated phone #scam calls; fake #tax payments on iTunes..." It's hard to imagine someone offering a payment over the phone, but when the "IRS" is threatening you with legal action or huge penalties, people get scared and try to act quickly. The IRS offers plenty of resources, but often they are only used 'after the fact.'
If you have any questions about tax-identity theft or you are concerned about whether or not your tax record is safe, check out videos, publications, tips, and guides the IRS offers on Helpful resources: Publications, articles, YouTube videos and other identity theft related outreach. If you have concerns that aren't covered, need assistance with a letter you received, or need help with the steps to take as a victim of tax identity theft, a TaxPro can help you.
Identity theft can damage your financial well-being for years while you work it out, and it's distressing to think that someone impersonated you. I've added reviewing our credit reports to my pre-tax season preparation and tax preparation lists, so I now check our reports at least twice a year. After my work on the Security Summit and learning more about the protection good passwords can help provide, I try to change ALL of my passwords MONTHLY and NONE of them are the same. Yes, it is cumbersome and sometimes I forget the new one and have to reset, but it's worth the extra piece of mind. Not protecting your personal information is much like not locking your house-it's not worth the risk. In this case, it's not just your money I want you to keep, it's your identity, and your personal information - protect it and keep it - SAFE.