Pennsylvanians Urged to Protect Sensitive Data during Holiday Shopping Season

The Department of Revenue today called on Pennsylvanians to protect themselves against identity theft as the holiday shopping season is underway. Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell reminded Pennsylvanians that this time of year is a prime time for identity thieves to steal financial and personal data.

“Identity thieves can use this data to drain your bank account, or file a fraudulent tax return in your name early in 2020. That could give the identity thief an opening to steal the tax refund you may be entitled to,” said Hassell, speaking today at a news conference in Philadelphia at the headquarters of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

“Don’t let this be a season of giving to identity thieves. Turn it into a season of protection for you, your family and your friends,” Hassell added.

Today’s news conference kicked off the 4th annual National Tax Security Awareness Week, a nationwide campaign designed to raise awareness around basic security steps. As part of this effort, the Department of Revenue partners with the IRS, other state tax agencies, private organizations in the tax industry and other groups.

Here are some basic steps people can take to protect themselves from identity thieves:

  • Shop at websites where the web address begins “https” – the “s” is for secure communications.
  • Don’t shop on unsecured public Wi-Fi in malls or hotels, where thieves can tap in.
  • Secure your home Wi-Fi with a password.
  • Use security software for computers and mobile phones; keep it updated.
  • Protect your personal information; don’t hand it out to just anyone.
  • Use strong and unique passwords for your accounts.
  • Use two-factor authentication whenever possible.
  • Back up your files on computers and mobile phones.

Watch out for scam emails during holidays, tax season

The most common way thieves steal identities or account passwords is simply by asking for it through phishing emails. Remember, don’t take the bait. Recognize and avoid phishing emails. These tricky scams often involve:

  • Identity thieves posing as companies or government agencies you know and trust. That includes the IRS and the Department of Revenue.
  • Emails telling an urgent story to trick you into opening a link or an attachment. Doing this can add a virus or spyware onto your computer.

And, no, that’s not the IRS or the Department of Revenue calling to demand a tax payment on a gift card. Remember:

  • The IRS and the Department of Revenue do not call demanding immediate payment and making threats of jail or lawsuits.
  • The IRS and the Department of Revenue will not demand payment via gift or debit cards.
  • The IRS and the Department of Revenue do not send unsolicited emails about refunds or payments, requesting your login credentials, Social Security numbers or other sensitive information.

Steps to follow if you are a victim of a scam

The Department of Revenue reminds taxpayers that it has a Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit dedicated to assisting victims of identity theft and combating tax refund fraud.

If you are a victim of identity theft or discover a fraudulent Pennsylvania personal income tax return was filed using your identity, please contact the Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit at 717-772-9297 or