The tumultuous nature of current events can and will attract the attention of data-hungry cyber criminals throughout tax season. It’s an unfortunate truth that when something as unprecedented as COVID-19 takes center stage worldwide, thieves see an opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.

While you endeavor to support the filing needs of taxpayers in your community, it is more important than ever to continue safeguarding private information — and to arm your clients with the knowledge they need to keep their data safe at home as well. This is critical even if you are a single preparer; cyber criminals do not discriminate.

Be Prepared: Learn the Signs of Data Theft

As a tax professional, you’re more than likely already equipped with the essentials we all associate with cyber security: antivirus software, malware protection, data backup measures, and multi-factor authentication (to name just a few). Unfortunately, many of your clients may not be as diligent with the protection of their personal information.

Going above and beyond for those clients is surprisingly simple: Provide the people you serve each year with the information they need to maintain the security of their financial data at home. Even offering the following tips from the IRS can help foil cyber thieves’ plans before they cause real and lasting damage:

  • Watch out for phishing scams: Inform your clients that the IRS will never initiate contact with them via phone, email, or social media. Would-be scammers often prey on older individuals, inciting fear with threats that seem all too credible. Any communications that request money or personal information should be promptly reported to the IRS for investigation.
  • Create strong — and different — passwords: It may be tempting to come up with an easy-to-remember password and use it for a variety of sites, but doing so puts private information at higher risk for theft. Encourage your clients to utilize strong, unique passwords for each of their online accounts. There are a variety of apps and programs available that help securely store passwords for easier access that is still safe.
  • Report unusual activity immediately. If a client of yours, for instance, mentions that their computer has suddenly been running more slowly than usual — or that they’re unable to access their bank account for no discernable reason — some simple advice from your end may help more than you know. While you don’t have the ability to diagnose a virus for them or reset their online banking credentials, you can suggest that they reach out to a qualified source for assistance. After all, every step matters when it comes to the safety of their financial information.

Remember to Protect EFINs, Too

While the importance of securing client data cannot be emphasized enough, protecting your own information should remain top of mind as well. A single breach, for example, holds the potential for a much more substantial problem — suddenly, hundreds of individuals must fear for the security of their personal information. That’s why taking significant measures to keep cyber theft at bay is not only crucial to your practice but also to the lives of the families you serve.

The IRS recommends that you keep an eye out for suspicious activity by regularly reviewing the activity associated with your EFIN. To verify the number of tax returns filed under your EFIN, simply visit IRS e-Services and log in or register for an account.

Once your account is established and you’ve logged in, follow these steps:

  • Select your name.
  • In the left banner, select
  • In the left banner, select e-file Application.
  • Select your name again.
  • Select EFIN Status.

At this point, you should be able to view the exact number of returns filed with your EFIN based on type. You can also see the number of returns the IRS has received from your EFIN — this data is updated by the IRS on a weekly basis. If your records don’t match up with what you see on the screen, it is recommended that you contact the IRS e-help Desk directly at 866-255-0654.

TaxAct® Professional is, as always, committed to providing you with the most up-to-date information, tools, and software to support you, your clients, and your business. That said if anything ever seems amiss during tax season — or at any other time of the year — reaching out to the IRS is strongly recommended. From our tax professional family to yours: Stay safe, strong, and successful.