Staying Safe from Tax Scams
As people seek to file their tax returns this year, cybercriminals will be busy trying to take advantage of this with a variety of scams. Citizens may learn they are victims only after having a legitimate tax return rejected because scammers already fraudulently filed taxes in their name. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), there was a 60% increase in 2018 in phishing scams that tried to steal money or tax data. The IRS identified 9,557 fraudulent tax returns as of only February 24th, 2018 for the last filing season. As everyone aims to file their returns among all this fraud, the following advice will explain how tax fraud happens and provide recommendations on how to prevent it from happening to you or how to get help if you are unfortunately affected by a tax scam!
How is tax fraud perpetrated?
The most common way for cybercriminals to steal money, financial account information, passwords, or Social Security Numbers is to simply ask for them. Criminals will send phishing messages often impersonating government officials and/or IT departments. They may tell you a new copy of your tax form is available. They may include a link in a very official looking email that goes to a website that uses an official organization’s logo and appears legitimate, yet is fraudulent. If you attempt to login into the false website, or provide any personal information, the criminals will see what you type and try to use it to compromise your other accounts and file a false return in your name.
Additionally, much of your personal information can be gathered online from sources like social media or past data breaches. Criminals know this, so they gather pieces of your personal information from a variety of sources and use the information to file a fake tax refund request! If a criminal files a tax return in your name before you do, you will go through the arduous process of proving that you did not file the return and subsequently correcting the return.
Criminals also impersonate the IRS or other tax officials, demanding tax payments and threatening you with penalties if you do not make an immediate payment. This contact may occur through websites, emails, or threatening calls or text messages that seem official but are not. Sometimes, criminals request their victims to pay “penalties” via strange methods like gift cards or prepaid credit cards. It is important to remember that the IRS lets citizens know it will not do the following:
- Initiate contact by phone, email, text messages, or social media without sending an official letter in the mail first.
- Call to demand immediate payment over the phone using a specific payment method such as a debit/credit card, a prepaid card, a gift card, or a wire transfer.
- Threaten you with jail or lawsuits for non-payment.
- Demand payment without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Request any sensitive information online, including PIN numbers, passwords or similar information for financial accounts.
How can you protect yourself from tax fraud?
- File your taxes as soon as you can…before the scammers do it for you!
- Always be wary of calls, texts, emails, and websites asking for personal or tax data, or payment. Always contact organizations through their publicly-posted customer service line. If they contact you end the call and call the organization on the phone number on their website. As mentioned previously, the IRS will initiate contact on these issues by mail through the postal service.
- Don’t click on unknown links or links from unsolicited messages. Type the verified, real website address into your web browser.
- Don’t open attachments from unsolicited messages, as they may contain malware.
- Only conduct financial business over trusted sites and networks. Don’t use public, guest, free, or insecure Wi-Fi networks.
- Use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts and protect them. Reusing passwords between accounts is a big risk that allows a breach of one account to affect many of them!
- Shred all unneeded or old documents containing confidential and financial information.
- Check your financial account statements and your credit report regularly for unauthorized activity. Consider putting a security freeze on your credit file with the major credit bureaus. This will prevent identity thieves from applying for credit or creating an IRS account in your name.
If you receive a tax-related phishing or suspicious email at work, report it according to your organization’s cybersecurity policy. If you receive a similar email on your personal account, the IRS encourages you to forward the original suspicious email as an attachment to its firstname.lastname@example.org email account, or to call the IRS at 800-908-4490. More information about tax scams is available on the IRS website and in the IRS Dirty Dozen list of tax scams.
If you suspect you have become a victim of tax fraud or identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Identity Theft website provides a step-by-step recovery plan. It also allows you to report if someone has filed a return fraudulently in your name, if your information was exposed in a major data breach, and many other types of fraud.
A message from MS-ISAC February 2019 Volume 14, Issue 2
Staying Secure While Shopping Online
It is that time of year where so many people prepare to purchase gifts for friends, family, and loved ones. Though it can be convenient to avoid the lines and rush for that latest Black Friday deal by shopping online, this also carries some risk. Cybercriminals are always working to steal your personal and payment information and the holiday shopping season is the perfect opportunity for this to happen. By following a few key practices, you can greatly lower your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud.
Choose Trusted Online Retailers and Apps
Always shop only with trusted online retailers. That means using a retailer you already know or one that is verified through another trusted entity. If you find a new possible shop to do business with, but are unsure about its reputation, try to find reviews from trusted sources such as the Better Business Bureau. It is important to stick to trusted review sources because there are several ways to fake online reviews, and there are places where cybercriminals can pay other criminals to post positive reviews. Even though an untrusted site might have the best prices, it is worth it to use a trusted online shop that is known to safeguard your information and purchases.
The same advice applies when downloading apps to help with your online shopping. Whether you are downloading a store app to get a coupon, a deal aggregator app to comparison shop, or a reward app that ensures you get points or cashback, it is important to stick to trusted apps from known developers. Unfortunately, fake apps appear in the app stores, purporting to be from a trusted source while other apps exist to capture your data without providing the services they claim to support. You can avoid many malicious apps by downloading your apps from Google Play, Apple App Store, Microsoft Store, or another trusted platform, selectively choosing which apps to download, and making sure you carefully read the permissions and app reviews.
Secure your Device, Connectivity and Accounts
Keep your devices up-to-date, especially those you shop and bank with – Simply updating the device that you use for conducting your online shopping is a key cybersecurity practice. By keeping the device up-to-date with current patches and software, you ensure you have the manufacturer’s latest security fixes in place.
Never use a public computer when shopping or banking – Using a public computer, like those found at libraries, can expose you to greater risk. It is best to use a trusted home device and network for anything involving financial transactions.
Never shop or conduct banking on unencrypted or public Wi-Fi – It is best to always conduct financial transactions or log on to sensitive accounts via a trusted Wi-Fi networks. Ideally, this should be from your home network, which should require a password and use WPA2 encryption.
Look for the lock icon on your browser - When a site has a lock icon on the browser window, or in the URL bar, it indicates that your communications with the site are encrypted. If you do not see a lock, look for “https” at the beginning of the URL, as this is the same thing as the lock.
Check out as a guest – By checking out as a guest, you prevent the online retailer from storing your personal account and financial information. This minimizes the amount of information that could be lost if the retailer is compromised. If you have or need an account with a retail website:
- Use a strong password – Be sure to use a strong, unique password. Always use more than ten characters, with numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters.
- Don’t save your payment information with retailers – If you have an established account with a retailer, do not store your payment information with them. In the case of an account compromise, stored payment information may allow a criminal to make purchases using your financial information.
Be Wary of Fraudulent Emails and Advertisements
Look out for suspicious or unexpected emails – A common tactic of cybercriminals year round is to send fraudulent emails seeking to get you to click a link or open an attachment. When it comes to this time of year, they may make an email look like it contains tracking information for a shipment or a promotion for a store. The link or attachment might download malware or try to get you to enter your user credentials in a convincing, yet fraudulent login screen, so they can steal your password. Always avoid clicking direct links in emails, and if you receive an email with a tracking number in it, head to the shipping carrier’s website in your browser and copy and paste the tracking number itself into the site.
Avoid clicking advertisements or pop-up windows of any kind – Advertisements embedded in websites and pop-ups have been known to be compromised by cybercriminals to distribute malware. It is best to avoid clicking them altogether. To close pop-ups, press Control + F4 on a Windows computer and Command + W on a Mac.
A message from MS-ISAC November 2018 Volume 13, Issue 11
Is someone using your personal or financial information to make purchases, get benefits, file taxes, or commit fraud? That’s identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to report identity theft and get a personal recovery plan.
The site provides detailed advice to help you fix problems caused by identity theft, along with the ability to:
- get a personal recovery plan that walks you through each step
- update your plan and track your progress
- print pre-filled letters and forms to send to credit bureaus, businesses, and debt collectors
Go to IdentityTheft.gov and click “Get Started.” There’s detailed advice for tax, medical, and child identity theft – plus over thirty other types of identity theft. No matter what type of identity theft you’ve experienced, the next page tells you what to do right away. You’ll find these steps – and a whole lot more – at IdentityTheft.gov.
What To Do Right Away
- Call the companies where you know fraud occurred. Call the fraud department. Explain that someone stole your identity. Ask them to close or freeze the accounts. Then, no one can add new charges unless you agree. Change logins, passwords, and PINs for your accounts.
- Place a fraud alert and get your credit reports. To place a free fraud alert, contact one of the three credit bureaus. That company must tell the other two.
♦ Experian.com/help or 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)
♦ TransUnion.com/credit-help or 888-909-8872
♦ Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services or 1-800-685-1111
A fraud alert lasts one year. It will make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name. Get updates at IdentityTheft.gov/creditbureaucontacts. Get your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Go to annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. Review your reports. Make note of any account or transaction you don’t recognize. This will help you report the theft to the FTC and the police
- Report identity theft to the FTC. Go to IdentityTheft.gov, and include as many details as possible. Based on the information you enter, IdentityTheft.gov will create your Identity Theft Report and recovery plan.
Go to IdentityTheft.gov for next steps. Your next step might be closing accounts opened in your name, or reporting fraudulent charges to your credit card company. IdentityTheft.gov can help – no matter what your specific identity theft situation is.
A message from Federal Trade Commission September 2018
Cybersecurity Guide for Businesses
Protect Computers and Networks
Install security and antivirus software that protects against malware, or malicious software, which can access a computer system without the owner’s consent for a variety of uses, including theft of information. Also, use a firewall program to prevent unauthorized access. Protection options vary, so find one that is right for the size and complexity of your business. Update the software, as appropriate, to keep it current. For example, set antivirus software to run a scan after each update. If you use a wireless (Wi-Fi) network, make sure it is secure and encrypted. Protect access to the router by using strong passwords.
Require Strong Authentication
Ensure that employees and other users connecting to your network use strong user IDs and passwords for computers, mobile devices, and online accounts by using combinations of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols that are hard to guess and changed regularly. Consider implementing multifactor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain access. Check with vendors that handle sensitive data to see if they offer multifactor authentication to access systems or accounts.
Control Access to Data
Control access to data and computers and create user accounts for each employee. Take measures to limit access or use of business computers to authorized individuals. Lock up laptops when not in use as they can be easily stolen or lost. Require each employee to have a separate user account and prohibit employees from sharing accounts. Only give employees access to the specific data systems they need to do their jobs, and don’t let them install software without permission. Also, make sure that only employees who need administrative privileges, such as IT staff and key personnel, have them and regularly review their ongoing need for access.
Teach Employees the Basics
Establish security practices and policies for employees, such as appropriate Internet usage guidelines, and set expectations and consequences for policy violations. Establish a top-down corporate culture that stresses the importance of strong cybersecurity, especially when it comes to handling and protecting customer information and other vital data. Ensure that all employees know how to identify and report potential security incidents.
Train Employees to be Careful Where They Connect to the Internet
Train employees to be careful where and how they connect to the Internet. Employees and third parties should only connect to your network using a trusted and secure connection. Public computers, such as at an Internet café, hotel business center, or public library, may not be secure. Also, your employees shouldn’t connect to your business’s network if they are unsure about the wireless connection they are using, as is the case with many free Wi-Fi networks at public “hotspots.” It can be relatively easy for cyber criminals to intercept the Internet traffic in these locations.
Train Employees About the Dangers of Suspicious E-mails
Employees need to be suspicious of unsolicited e-mails asking them to click on a link, open an attachment, or provide account information. It’s easy for cyber criminals to copy a reputable company’s or organization’s logo into a phishing e-mail. By complying with what appears to be a simple request, your employees may be installing malware on your network. The safest strategy is to ignore unsolicited requests, no matter how legitimate they appear.
Patch Software in a Timely Manner
Software vendors regularly provide patches or updates to their products to correct security flaws and improve functionality. A good practice is to download and install these software updates as soon as they are available. It may be most efficient to configure software to install such updates automatically.
Make Backup Copies of Important Systems and Data
Regularly backup the data from computers used by your business. Remember to apply the same security measures, such as encryption, to your backup data that you would apply to the original. In addition to automated backups, regularly backup sensitive business data to a storage device at a secondary location that is secure.
Don't Forget about Tablets and Smartphones
Mobile devices can be a source of security challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access your business’s network. If your employees connect their devices to the business’s network, require them to password protect their devices, encrypt their data, and install security apps to prevent criminals from accessing the device while it is connected to public networks. Be sure to develop and enforce reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.
Watch Out for Fraudulent Transactions and Bills
Scams can range from payments with a worthless check or a fake credit or debit card to fraudulent returns of merchandise. Be sure you have insurance to protect against risks. Additionally, ensure that you report any irregularities immediately.
A message from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation FDIC-019-2016
Cybersecurity Guide for Customers
Protect Your Computer
Install software that protects against malware, or malicious software, which can access a computer system without your consent to steal passwords or account numbers. Also, use a firewall program to prevent unauthorized access to your PC. While protection options vary, make sure the settings allow for automatic updates.
Security when Logging into Financial Accounts
Use the strongest authentication offered, especially for high-risk transactions. Use passwords that are difficult to guess and keep them secret. Create “strong” user IDs and passwords for your computers, mobile devices, and online accounts by using combinations of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols that are hard to guess and then change them regularly. Although using the same password or PIN for several accounts can be tempting, doing so means a criminal who obtains one password or PIN can log in to other accounts.
Understand Internet Safety Features
You can have greater confidence that a website is authentic and that it encrypts (scrambles) your information during transmission if the web address starts with “https://.” Also, ensure that you are logged out of financial accounts when you complete your transactions or walk away from the computer. To learn about additional safety steps, review your web browser’s user instructions.
Be Suspicious of Unsolicited E-mails
Be suspicious of unsolicited e-mails asking you to click on a link, download an attachment, or provide account information. It’s easy for cyber criminals to copy the logo of a reputable company or organization into a phishing email. When responding to a simple request, you may be installing malware. Your safest strategy is to ignore unsolicited requests, no matter how legitimate or enticing they appear.
Be Careful Where You Connect to the Internet
Only access the Internet for banking or for other activities that involve personal information using your own laptop or mobile device through a known, trusted, and secure connection. A public computer, such as at a hotel business center or public library, and free Wi-Fi networks are not necessarily secure. It can be relatively easy for cyber criminals to intercept the Internet traffic in these locations.
Be Careful When Using Social Networking Sites
Cyber criminals use social networking sites to gather details about individuals, such as their place or date of birth, a pet’s name, their mother’s maiden name, and other information that can help them figure out passwords — or how to reset them. Don’t share your ‘page’ or access to your information with anyone you don’t know and trust. Cyber criminals may pretend to be your ‘friend’ to convince you to send money or divulge personal information.
A message from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation FDIC-018-2016
General Personally Identifiable Information
Personally identifiable information or (PII) can be any data that identifies you as a specific individual. This information should be kept private and not shared with others. Examples of PII include your Social Security Number, or your name in combination with your date or place of birth.
Recommendations: Be aware of what you post publicly or submit through applications or services. Consider with whom you share your PII, and give extra scrutiny and consideration as to whether you really need to share this information. If someone contacts you requesting PII through email, social media, or a phone call, do not provide the information. If it is a phone call that you think is legitimate, hang up and call the organization back through a publicly listed telephone number so you can verify the caller is who they say they are.
Information About Your Location
Giving out your location when away from home on social media is a privacy risk. This practice can result in your home being targeted for burglary. Additionally, your family and friends may be targeted by scammers seeking financial assistance on your behalf to help with a non-existent “travel emergency.” Three popular methods of this type of location sharing are geotagging (adding a location tag to a social media post or picture), posting a photo in which the background can be easily identified (like Times Square or the Eiffel tower), or “checking in” at a business.
Allowing apps to use your phone’s location services has its own privacy concerns, as the app is likely recording or using that data, and may automatically add geotagging to social media interactions in that app as a result!
Recommendations: Customize your location settings to minimize sharing your location with websites and applications, especially on your mobile devices. You can geotag social media posts, pictures, or videos after returning from vacation, going out to eat, or that business trip. Also, check the privacy settings of apps to make sure they don’t need access to your location. At a minimum, ensure your social media settings are set to only show your posts and profile to friends.
Security Questions & Social Media
Security questions are a way to authenticate your identity and are an extra layer of security on accounts, which makes it extra important to not post these answers on social media. Posting a picture or writing a post about your first car’s make and model, or color of your car, childhood address, favorite ice cream flavor, mother’s maiden name, or elementary school is a bad idea. These are common security questions and by posting this information, you give away the answers, allowing cybercriminals to potentially access your accounts.
Recommendations: When on social media, be aware of what you post (including pictures!) and how it relates to the security questions you selected for your various accounts.
Website/Application Privacy Settings and Permission
All websites and applications have privacy settings. These settings help you control what others are allowed to see, as well as manage your online experience. You should be familiar with these privacy settings and customize them to protect your information. Additionally, when creating an account on a website or application and agreeing to their services, understand what you are giving them permission to do with the data you provide.
Take Responsibility: Protecting your privacy starts with you. Website owners, websites, and service providers have a responsibility to protect your privacy. However, it is up to you to understand the privacy settings on social media, online accounts, and your devices. Knowing these settings, you will be able to customize them for greater security.
Take ownership of your privacy and read privacy policies and end user license agreements on websites (including social media), and update your settings whenever new privacy features are available.
A message from MS-ISAC January 2019 Volume 14, Issue 1
Internet Devices & Safe Online Banking
Online banking and remote access to financial accounts is part of daily life now — with connections through internet devices such as smartphones, laptops, readers, tablets or desktops — account information is a click away.
These same devices are used to connect to many other things; like baby monitors, TVs, healthcare data, doorbell cameras, news & information, refrigerators and other household items. And, frequently they are interconnected by a home network that shares all this information and allows internet access.
Without proper security for each device, your personal information is at risk.
➤ Secure All Your Internet Devices
There are several software security packages that offer protection for all your interconnected internet devices including your wireless router. Here are the first steps that are essential to an integrated approach to secure your internet devices.
Passcodes and Passwords:
Internet device suppliers allow you to reset passcodes or passwords. The strongest passwords use a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols and should be at least 10 characters in length to provide the best protection. Importantly, each of your devices requires a separate password — that way if one device is lost, stolen or compromised then not all are affected.
KEY POINT – Never allow your passwords to be remembered by your browser software!
Purchase and install software that detects, prevents and removes all viruses, malware or spyware found on your internet devices. Many manufacturers offer an entire suite of anti-virus security software to protect all your devices. Just remember that different internet devices have different operating systems — one security solution may not protect all your devices.
KEY POINT – Each device requires specific security software protection!
Manufacturers of internet devices update their software constantly to provide faster service and more secure products. Some of these software updates provide a needed fix for security weaknesses — so sign up with the software manufacturer to receive any updates automatically and install them on a regular basis.
KEY POINT – Software updates provide the best defense against online threats!
Your home network connects to the internet using a router that comes with a default user ID and a pre-set password from the manufacturer. Reset the manufacturer settings for both immediately. The router ID renamed by you and a strong password are essential protections for a home router. Choose the highest level of security available for your router and activate it. Also, enable the preinstalled firewall protection hardware for added safety.
KEY POINT – The router serves as the pathway to the internet for all your devices!
➤ Device Use and Best Practices
Security experts have developed best practices for everyone to follow when using any internet device.
- Wi-Fi hotspots that are public and shared by many users are not secure.
- Always log off by following the financial institution’s secured area exit procedures.
- Back up your data regularly to your personal cloud storage account or external hard-drive.
- All your internet devices should auto lock with a short time period.
- When not in use shutdown or turn off your devices.
- Enable each device to have your data erased or wiped remotely.
➤ More Connections and More Things Are Coming
The ability to conduct safe online banking, purchase things and remotely access, monitor and control home appliances through internet devices offers great convenience for everyone.
In the coming years experts predict rapid growth in the number of interconnected things — doubling by 2020. Make internet device security your number one priority!
- Stopthinkconnect.org ■ Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov
- Identity Theft Resource Center: www.idtheftcenter.org
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: www.fdic.gov
- National Credit Union Administration: www.ncua.gov
- On Guard Online: www.onguardonline.gov
- Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force: www.stopfraud.gov
Financial Education Corporation