IRS warns of scams as holiday season begins

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With the holiday season in full swing, multiple public officials are warning West Virginians about the possible risks associated with holiday shopping.

The Internal Revenue Service and multiple partners recognize the first week of December as National Tax Security Awareness Week; the fourth-annual week includes discussions and information regarding ways to protect one’s data and other information.

Philip Yamalis, senior stakeholder liaison with the IRS, said the holidays also mark “hunting season” for criminals.

“Thieves target your personal information so that they can, believe it or not, file fraudulent tax returns in your name,” he said.

According to U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart, eight in 10 Americans deal with identity fraud, which will become more problematic because of advances in technology.

“It’s overwhelmed society. It’s overwhelmed certainly seniors who did not grow up in a classroom that had iPads or smart devices,” he said. “Identity theft is a serious priority of my office. I work with all my federal problems, and unfortunately, there’s just too many victims of identity fraud in the country today.”

Yamalis said everyone has a role to play in protecting their information; his recommendations included using updated security software, being careful with personal information, using strong and unique passwords for each online account, backing up files as needed, and only visiting secure websites.

He also said people should check with family and friends who may be susceptible to such schemes.

“We all know someone who can be technically challenged in today’s day. They can be any age or from any walk of life,” he said. “Encourage them to make sure they are being safe when they’re on the web. Make sure they have anti-virus software and a firewall. Make sure they’re Wi-Fi protected. Simple steps like these can not only protect their financial data, but it can also help protect them when they file their tax return and help ensure their tax refund gets to them as quickly as possible.”

National Tax Security Awareness Week continues through Friday.