Adults can pass on these tips to teach teens online safety

Adults teach their kids how to drive, balance a checkbook and cook. It’s also a good idea to teach younger users how to explore the internet with caution.

All internet users should be mindful of risks people can take when they share devices, shop online and interact on social media. Teens and younger users – like others who are less experienced with technology – often put themselves at risk by leaving a trail of personal information for fraudsters and con artists to follow.

Taxpayers might find the phrase “online security” overwhelming but, it doesn’t have to be. Even those who aren’t super tech savvy – no matter their age – can stay safe online. Here are some tips adults can pass on to the kids in their lives:

  • Remember security is important.
    No one should reveal too much information about themselves. People can keep data secure by only providing what is necessary. This reduces online exposure to scammers and criminals. For example, birthdays, addresses, age and especially Social Security numbers are some things that should not be shared freely. In fact, people should not routinely carry a Social Security card in their wallet or purse.
  • Use software with firewall and anti-virus protections.
    People should make sure security software is always turned on and can automatically update. They should encrypt sensitive files stored on computers. Sensitive files include things like tax records, school transcripts, and college applications. They should use strong, unique passwords for each account. They should also be sure all family members have comprehensive protection for their devices…particularly on shared devices.
  • Learn to recognize and avoid scams.
    Everyone should be on the lookout for scams. Thieves use phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts to pose as IRS employees or other legitimate government or law enforcement agencies. People should remember to never click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails. If someone calls asking for personal information, folks should remember not to give out such details.
  • Protect personal data
    Adults should advise children and teens and other youngers users to shop at reputable online retailers. Treat personal information like cash; don’t leave it lying around.
  • Know the risk of public Wi-Fi.
    Connection to Wi-Fi in a mall or coffee shop is convenient and often free, but it may not be safe. Hackers and cybercriminals can easily steal personal information from these networks. Always use a virtual private network when connecting to public Wi-Fi.

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Here’s how taxpayers can avoid the hooks of phishing scams

Knowledge and awareness. Those two things can protect taxpayers and their family members from getting caught up in a phishing scam.

A phishing scam is often an unsolicited email or a website that looks like a legitimate site designed to trick users. The scams convince people into providing personal and financial information.  Scam emails can arrive to personal and work accounts on computers, smartphones and tablets. 

Phishing scams often use one or more of these tactics. The scammers:

  • Pose as a trusted bank, favorite retail store, government agency, or even a tax professional.
  • Tell the taxpayer there’s something wrong with their account.
  • Tell the recipient they’re in violation of a law.
  • Tell the taxpayer to open a link in email or download an attachment.
  • Send the taxpayer a familiar looking – but fake – website and ask them to log in to it.

Thieves do these to trick taxpayers into revealing account numbers and passwords. The thieves secretly download malicious software on to someone’s device to collect personal information. The criminal might also try to fool the recipient into sending money to the scammers.

It’s important to remember that the IRS never:

  • Calls to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, iTunes gift card or wire transfer.
  • Asks a taxpayer to make a payment to a person or organization other than the U.S. Treasury.
  • Threatens to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups saying they can have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Demands taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.

When in doubt, taxpayers can always check the status of their taxes by registering at IRS.gov. From there, taxpayers can check their account balance for the current tax year or any previous tax year with a balance due.

Taxpayers who receive an IRS-related or tax-themed phishing email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov. Taxpayers can also report scam letters and phone calls to phishing@irs.gov as well as the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

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Get ready to take the guesswork out of paycheck withholding

The tax filing season is quickly approaching. With that in mind, taxpayers should remember there’s still time to make an estimated or additional tax payment to ensure their tax withholding is still accurate.

Those who need to make an estimated tax payment for 2019 should remember that the fourth quarter payment is due Wednesday, January 15, 2020.

These taxpayers will want to check to see if their 2019 federal income tax withholding will unexpectedly fall short of their tax liability for the year. They can check this by using the Tax Withholding Estimator on IRS.gov.

All taxpayers can use the results from the Tax Withholding Estimator to determine if they should:

This tool helps employees avoid having too much or too little tax withheld from their wages. It also helps those working for themselves make accurate estimated tax payments. Having too little withheld can result in an unexpected tax bill or even a penalty at tax time in 2020. Having too much withheld results in less money in their pocket.

The Tax Withholding Estimator asks taxpayers to estimate:

  • Their 2019 income.
  • The number of children to be claimed for the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • Other items that will affect their 2019 taxes.

The IRS Withholding Estimator does not ask for personally-identifiable information, such as a name, Social Security number, address and bank account numbers. The IRS doesn’t save or record the information entered in the Estimator.

Before using the Tax Withholding Estimator, taxpayers should gather their most recent pay stubs and income documents from all sources. They should gather documents related to pensions, annuities, Social Security benefits and self-employment income. They should also have a copy of their 2018 federal tax return. This will help estimate 2019 income and answer other questions asked during the process.

If a taxpayer follows the recommendations at the end of the Tax Withholding Estimator and changes their withholding for 2019, they should recheck their withholding at the start of 2020. A withholding change made in 2019 may have a different full-year impact in 2020. So, if a taxpayer does not file a new Form W-4 for 2020, their withholding might be higher or lower than they intend.

Taxpayers should remember that the Tax Withholding Estimator’s results will only be as accurate as the information provided. People with more complex tax situations should use the instructions in Publication 505, Tax Withholding and Estimated Tax . This includes taxpayers who owe alternative minimum tax or certain other taxes, and people with long-term capital gains or qualified dividends.

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IRS updates per-diem guidance for business travelers and their employers

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued guidance for business travelers, updated to include changes resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). 

Revenue Procedure 2019-48, posted today on IRS.gov, updates the rules for using per diem rates to substantiate the amount of ordinary and necessary business expenses paid or incurred while traveling away from home.  Taxpayers are not required to use a method described in this revenue procedure and may instead substantiate actual allowable expenses provided they maintain adequate records.

Although TCJA suspended the miscellaneous itemized deduction that employees could take for non-reimbursed business expenses, self-employed individuals and certain employees, such as Armed Forces reservists, fee-basis state or local government officials, eligible educators, and qualified performing artists, that deduct unreimbursed expenses for travel away from home may still use per diem rates for meals and incidental expenses, or incidental expenses only.

The revenue procedure makes clear that TCJA amended prior rules to disallow a deduction for expenses for entertainment, amusement, or recreation paid or incurred after Dec. 31, 2017.  Otherwise allowable meal expenses remain deductible if the food and beverages are purchased separately from the entertainment, or if the cost of the food and beverages is stated separately from the cost of the entertainment.

The IRS annually issues guidance providing updated per diem rates; Notice 2019-55 provides the rates that have been in effect since Oct. 1, 2019.

Taxpayers should watch out for gift card scam

Taxpayers should always be on the lookout for scams. Thieves want to trick people in order to steal their personal information, scam them out of money, or talk them into engaging in questionable behavior with their taxes. Scam attempts can peak during tax season, but taxpayers need to remain vigilant all year.

Gift card scams are on the rise. In fact, there are many reports of taxpayers being asked to pay a fake tax bill through the purchase of gift cards.

Here’s how one scenario usually happens:

  • Someone posing as an IRS agent calls the taxpayer and informs them their identity has been stolen.
  • The fake agent says the taxpayer’s identify was used to open fake bank accounts.
  • The caller tells the taxpayer to buy gift cards from various stores and await further instructions.
  • The scammer then contacts the taxpayer again telling them to provide the gift cards’ access numbers.
     

Here’s how people can know if it is really the IRS calling. The IRS does not:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Demand that taxpayers pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they owe. All taxpayers should be aware of their rights.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
  • Revoke the taxpayer’s driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status.

People who believe they’ve been targeted by a scammer should:

  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report a phone scam. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page. They can also call 800-366-4484.
  • Report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov. They should add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • Report an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS-related component like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov. The sender can add “IRS Phone Scam” to the subject line.

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National Association of Tax Professionals