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While it can be easy to look at required continuing education (CE) courses as yet another regulatory hoop through which accounting professionals need to jump, these courses often present an unrivaled opportunity for self-growth. With technological advances that make it simpler than ever for scam artists to steal confidential client information from even the tech-savviest accountants, being on top of the latest detection and prevention strategies ensures you'll provide crucial security to the clients who depend on you.
One of the most interesting—and timely—topics covered in today’s CE courses is the rise in taxpayer identity theft. Breaches of credit card data are seemingly so commonplace these days that many consumers now operate under the assumption that having their credit card hacked is not a matter of “if,” but “when.”
But while a credit card number can be canceled and reissued without much hassle, losing control of the personal and sensitive information contained on an individual’s income tax return can lead to serious and long-ranging consequences for both you and the client. Scammers who grab Social Security numbers (including those of minor children), adjusted gross income figures and employer names and addresses from tax returns are well-positioned to file a fraudulent return. This lets them claim thousands of dollars in refundable credits in your client's name and abscond with the money before you or your client notice anything amiss.
If you tend to keep your clients’ tax returns in a folder on your desktop, even a password-protected one, you could be risking exposure of their sensitive information just through your internet browsing habits. And phishing scams that invite users to “click here” for more information can render every byte of data on that user’s computer vulnerable to outside access.
Many accounting professionals are now able to earn CE credit for identity theft and data security topics, including programs that focus on protecting client data, boosting browser and computer security, informing clients and employees of the risks associated with phishing scams, and best practices for recovering from a data breach. Because accounting professionals are legally required to take reasonable efforts to protect their clients’ information, attending one of these courses can keep both you and your clients safe.
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