AVOIDING ONLINE TAX SCAMS

It’s tax season, which means it’s also time for tax scams, with numerous online scams that attempt to steal people’s tax refunds, bank accounts, or identities. Last year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates it paid $5.2 billion in fraudulent identity theft refunds in filing season 2013.[1] Websense Security Labs reported in 2014 it saw approximately 100,000 IRS-related scams in circulation every two weeks.[2]

This year, we need to be especially careful in light of the Anthem Breach, in which data from approximately 80 million customers was exposed, triggering new phishing attacks offering false claims of credit monitoring services.

Users who have already filed their taxes this season can still be vulnerable to tax-related scams. Many schemes take advantage of users by alleging to have information about the filer’s refund, or noting a problem with the return that was previously filed.

One scam that has already been impacting users this season involves phishing emails claiming to be from Intuit’s TurboTax. The emails prompt users to click on links to verify their identity or update their accounts in an attempt to download malware to the victim’s machine, or steal data such as Social Security numbers or financial information.

Below are some of the most common email scams users should be cautious about:

  • The email says the user is owed a refund and should forward a bank account number where the refund may be deposited. Once the scammer has the bank account information, that account will see a big withdrawal, not a deposit.

 

  • The email contains exciting offers or refunds for participating in an “IRS Survey.” This fake survey is actually used to acquire information to perform identity theft.

 

  • The email threatens the user with fines or jail time for not making an immediate payment, or responding to the email.

 

  • The email includes a “helpful” downloadable document (e.g. “new changes in the tax law,” a tax calculator, etc.). In reality, the download is a malicious file intended to infect your computer.

 

 

How To Avoid Becoming A Tax-Scam Victim

 

  • Do not respond to emails appearing to be from the IRS.  The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through email or social media to request personal or financial information. If you receive an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, send it to phishing@irs.gov.

 

  • Do not respond to unsolicited emails and do not provide sensitive information via email. If the email appears to be from your employer, bank, broker, etc., contact the entity directly. Do not open any attachments or click on links contained in unsolicited or suspicious emails.

 

  • Carefully select the tax sites you visit. Use caution when searching online for tax forms, advice on deductibles, tax preparers, and other similar topics. Do not visit a site by clicking on a link sent in an email, found on someone’s blog, or in an advertisement. The website you land on may look just like the real site, but it may be a well-crafted fake.

 

  • Secure your computer.  Make sure your computer has all operating system and application software updates. Anti-virus and anti-spyware software should be installed, running, and receiving automatic updates. Ensure you use a strong password and different passwords for each account.



 

Resources

 IRS 2015 Dirty Dozen Tax Scams: www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Completes-the-Dirty-Dozen-Tax-Scams-for-2015

What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen- FTC Guidebook:   http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009-taking-charge_0.pdf

Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theftwww.irs.gov/uac/Taxpayer-Guide-to-IdentityTheft

Tax Scams/Consumer Alertswww.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Scams-Consumer-Alerts

Report Phishingwww.irs.gov/uac/Report-Phishing

[1] http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-633

[2] http://money.cnn.com/2014/03/18/smallbusiness/tax-cyberscams/


 

Online Safety for College-Bound Kids

8 online safety rules for college-bound kids

Previous generations didn’t need to have “the digital talk” but in a world where what goes online stays online, it’s essential.

1. The Internet is forever – Think about future employers, including those coveted summer internships Don’t post anything online, including inappropriate photos, which would make a future employer think twice about hiring you. Good judgment is something employers look for, show that you have it.

2. Don’t add your address to your Facebook profile – Keep your address private. Anyone who needs your address can get it from you directly.

3. Don’t broadcast your location – Go ahead and check-in at your favorite coffee place and post photos of you and friends at a concert. Just do it sparingly. People don’t need to know where you are all the time or when your dorm room or apartment might be empty.

4. Don’t “friend” people you don’t know – Be choosy when it comes to friending people on social media. Just because someone sends you a friend request doesn’t mean you have to accept it—especially if you have no idea who they are.

5. Guard your social security number – Your social security number is a winning lottery ticket to a fraudster. It is the key to stealing your identity and taking over your accounts. Keep your social security card locked away in a safe place. Memorize the number so you can minimize using the card itself. Question anyone who asks for your social security card. Employers, banks, credit card companies and the department of motor vehicles are some of the few legitimate entities who may need your social security number. Never give it out online or in email.

6. Don’t use the same password everywhere – All your accounts need a password, but not the same one. Consider using an all-in-one password manager. If you choose this option make sure that you log out of the service when not in use. Get in the habit of locking your computer and shutting it off at night.

7. Beware of emails phishing for personal information – Be very wary of any email with a link that asks you to disclose your credit card details, username, password or social security number. These emails can look official but no bank, or other legitimate business, should email asking for this information.

8. Be Wi-Fi savvy and safe – Free Wi-Fi at coffee shops, libraries and restaurants make these great places to hang out and study. However, free comes at the cost of security. Unsecured networks create the risk of identity theft and other personal information being stolen. Make sure sites you visit use encryption software (website addresses start with https:// and usually display a lock in the browser address bar) to block identity thieves when using public Wi-Fi. Additionally, be careful to avoid using mobile apps that require credit card data or personal information on public Wi-Fi as there is no visible indicator of whether the app uses encryption. In general it’s best to conduct sensitive transactions on a secured private network or through your phone’s data network rather than public Wi-Fi.

Email Do’s and Don’ts

Overview

Email has become one of the primary ways we communicate in our personal and professional lives. However, we can often be our own worst enemy when using it. In this newsletter, we will explain the most common mistakes people make and how you can avoid them in your day-to-day lives.

Autocomplete

Autocomplete is a common feature that is found in most email clients. As you type the name of the person you want to email, your email software automatically selects their email address for you. This way, you do not have to remember the email addresses of all your contacts, just the recipient’s name. The problem with autocomplete comes when you have contacts that share similar names. It is very easy for autocomplete to select the wrong email address for you. For example, you may intend to send an email with all of your organization’s financial information to “Fred Smith,” your coworker in accounting. Instead, autocomplete selects “Fred Johnson,” your neighbor. As a result, you end up sending sensitive information to unauthorized people. To protect yourself against this, always double check the name and the email address before you hit send.

CC / BCC

Most email clients have two options besides the “To” field: Cc and Bcc. “Cc” stands for “Carbon copy,” which means you want to keep people copied and informed. “Bcc” means “Blind carbon copy.” It is similar to Cc, but no one can see the people you have Bcc’ed. Both of these options can get you into trouble. When someone sends you an email and has Cc’ed people on it, you have to decide if you want to reply to just the sender or reply to everyone that was included on the Cc. If your reply is sensitive, you may want to reply only to the sender. If that is the case, be sure you do not use the “Reply All” option, which will include everyone. A Bcc presents a different problem.. When sending a sensitive email, you may want to copy someone privately using Bcc, such as your boss. However, if your boss responds using “Reply All,” all of the recipients will know that your boss was secretly Bcc’d on your original email.

Distribution lists

Distribution lists are a collection of email addresses represented by a single email address, sometimes called a mail list or a group name. For example, you may have a distribution list with the email address group@example.com. When you send an email to that address, the message gets sent to everyone in the group, which could be hundreds or thousands of people. Be very careful what you send to a distribution list, since so many people may receive that message. In addition, be very careful when replying to someone’s email on a distribution list. You may only intend to reply to the individual sender, but if you hit “Reply All,” you will have included the entire distribution list. This means that hundreds (if not thousands) of people will be able to read your private email. Another problem with autocomplete is that it could select a distribution list instead of a single recipient. Your intent may be to email only a single person, such as your coworker Carl at carl@example.com, but autocomplete might accidently send it to a distribution list you subscribed to about cars.

Emotion

Never send an email when you are emotionally charged. An email written in an emotional state could cause you harm in the future, perhaps even costing you a friendship or a job. Instead, take a moment and calmly organize your thoughts. If you have to vent your frustration, open your email client, make sure it is not addressed to anyone and type exactly what you feel like saying, then when you are done, get up and walk away from your computer, perhaps make yourself a cup of tea. When you come back, delete the email and start over again. Even better, pick up the phone and talk to the person, as it can be difficult to determine tone and intent with just an email.

Email does not have an ‘undo’ button. Whenever you send an email, slow down for a moment and double check what you are sending and to whom before hitting the send button.

Privacy

Finally, remember that traditional email has few privacy protections. Anyone who gains access to your email can read your messages. In addition, unlike a phone call or personal conversation, you no longer have control over an email once you send it. Your email can easily be forwarded to others, posted on public forums and may remain accessible on the Internet forever. If you have something truly private to communicate, pick up the phone. It is also important to remember that email can be used as legal evidence in many countries. Finally, if you are using your work computer for sending email, keep in mind that your employer may have the right to monitor and read your email. If you use your work computer to access your personal email account, this could include your personal email. Check with your supervisor if you have questions about email privacy at work.

http://www.securingthehuman.org/newsletters/ouch/issues/OUCH-201407_en.pdf

Have a scam-free vacation!

Heading out of town? Make sure you come back with a nice post-vacation glow and not a case of identity theft. Here are some things you can do to lessen the chances you’ll be a victim.

Limit what you carry. Take only the ID, credit cards, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home. If you’ve got a Medicare card, make a copy to carry and blot out all but the last four digits on it.

Know the deal with public Wi-FiMany cafés, hotels, airports, and other public places offer wireless networks — or Wi-Fi — you can use to get online. Two things to remember:

  • Wi-Fi hotspots often aren’t secure. If you connect to a public Wi-Fi network and send information through websites or mobile apps, the info might be accessed by someone it’s not meant for. If you use a public Wi-Fi network, send information only to sites that are fully encrypted (here’s how to tell), and avoid using apps that require personal or financial information. Researchers have found many mobile apps don’t encrypt information properly.
  • That Wi-Fi network might not belong to the hotel or airport. Scammers sometimes set up their own “free networks” with names similar to or the same as the real ones. Check to make sure you’re using the authorized network before you connect.

Protect your smartphone. Use a password or pin, and report a stolen smartphone — first to local law enforcement authorities, and then to your wireless provider. In coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the major wireless service providers have a stolen phone database that lets them know a phone was stolen and allows remote “bricking” so the phone can’t be activated on a wireless network without your permission. Find tips specific to your operating system with the FCC Smartphone Security Checker at fcc.gov.

ATMs and gas stations — especially in tourist areas — may have skimming devices. Scammers use cameras, keypad overlays, and skimming devices — like a realistic-looking card reader placed over the factory-installed card reader on an ATM or gas pump — to capture the information from your card’s magnetic strip without your knowledge and get your PIN. The FBI offers tips to avoid being scammed by a skimmer.

Watch that laptop. If you travel with a laptop, keep a close eye on it — especially through the shuffle of airport security — and consider carrying it in something less obvious than a laptop case. A minor distraction in an airport or hotel is all it takes for a laptop to vanish. At the hotel, store your laptop in the safe in your room. If that’s not an option, keep your laptop attached to a security cable in your room and consider hanging the “do not disturb” sign on your door.

Still, despite your best efforts to protect it, your identity may be stolen while you’re traveling. Here’s what you can do.

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/scam-free-vacation

 

eBay Users Should Change Password due to Breach

All eBay users should change their passwords immediately.  Due to a security breach, customer account information for eBay’s millions of users has been compromised.  To reset your password, here is the eBay password-reset page link .

In a post yesterday on the company’s official blog, eBay said the “database, which was compromised between late February and early March, included eBay customers’ name, encrypted password, email address, physical address, phone number and date of birth. ”  You can read the rest of the blog here.

According to reports and the company, the breach did not affect PayPal systems.  However, eBay and PayPal are affiliated entities and you might also consider changing your PayPal password.  It is always best to use a unique password for every online account.

Users should be especially wary of “phishing” attacks.  Just like during other major events, criminals will use keywords such as “eBay” and “password change” to lure victims into clicking malicious links in emails.  Don’t get tricked – never click links in emails.  Instead, type the website name into your browser for safety.