Tip of the Week: Taxpayers Beware! Avoiding Online Scams When Filing Tax Returns
Tax season becomes a holiday of criminal mischief for cyber criminals and scammers who are seeking to steal your identity and hard earned cash. According to a recent IRS tax scams consumer alert, “The IRS saw an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents in the 2016 tax season.” The most important advice is to stay vigilant and remember that the IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. The IRS also does not threaten citizens with lawsuits, prison, or other enforcement actions. At least not upon first contact.
Remember that cyber criminals and scammers spend lots of time researching potential targets and will know information about you to help build their scam. College Students are particularly vulnerable. Scammers will seek students out claiming that there is an issue with a student loan or taxes, and will demand a call back or face potential jail time, or even having their student loans revoked.
Phishing and Spoofing
Be aware of phishing emails, calls or text messages from supposed banks or other financial related entities. Phishing is where cyber criminals and scammers send emails impersonating a legitimate company or organization to fool you into thinking that the message is from a legitimate business. The email will reflect an official sounding domain name or the actual name of the business with just one simple alphabet letter off so it appears to be from the legitimate entity they are impersonating.
Cyber criminals also use software to “spoof” phone numbers so they appear to be from a legitimate phone number. They will then tell the victim to look at their caller ID and then to google the phone number so that the victim believes that the call is really “originating” from whomever they are impersonating. Phone numbers from the IRS and FBI are frequently used in these scams. Be cautious and aware. If this happens to you, locate the number to that agency or organization and call them back.
Another method cyber criminals and scammers use is to claim that the IRS has a new partnership with iTunes or some pre-paid debit card system, and will attempt to collect “payment” by having you purchase iTunes cards and then reading off the access codes. The victim is not only giving the scammer money, but is also effectively “laundering” it to make it far harder for law enforcement to recover.
Here are some important tips to keep you safe during tax season:
• Be aware of any last-minute requests for changes of address for refunds or account updates.
• Don’t click on attachments or links in emails that look the least bit suspicious.
• Avoid access remote to your computer.
• Forward suspicious emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Remember that the Pre-Paid debit card is not a payment method of the IRS.
“Note that the IRS will never:
• 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 you an acknowledgement if you owe any taxes.
• Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement agencies to have you arrested for not paying your taxes.
• Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount you owe.
• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.”
Remember: Criminals who commit fraud frequently change their tactics and use varying methods to commit their scams.
Other methods of protection include:
• Keep your software up to date. There is also a plethora of different products that protect your computer from viruses or malware. Make sure they are also current.
• Backing up your data is a good idea. Many people keep their critical data or information on a thumb drive that they keep at a secure location in case of emergencies such as a hardware crash.
• The use of strong passwords. Do not use “dictionary” words but instead combine several words together and throw in some numbers. Hackers have been using password cracking software since the beginning. The software basically runs through various enumerations of password lists to “brute force” the account. Not using legitimate words will help thwart that.
Beyond all this, another simpler solution is to file early as possible and to monitor your account. When filing, you will be issued an Electronic Filing Identification Number or EFIN. You can use this number to make sure no one else files under your name to steal your return. Remember, anyone with your Social Security Number can file under your name to claim a refund.
For more information check out the irs.gov website. The IRS monitors scams and publishes consumer information and alerts as new criminal trends emerge. Thanks for reading!
At Rampart Group, we specialize in helping businesses identify and mitigate the human susceptibility to cyber threats. Call 1-800 421-0614 or visit us with your Cyber Security needs.
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We at Rampart Group are committed to your security. Call 1-800 421-0614 or contact us today with your security or investigative needs.