“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” wrote Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, he left out the inevitability of scammers using tax season to make a profit. Now that electronic filing is a legitimate way to file your taxes, and tax software allows preparation to be done online, cybercriminals are coming up with new ways to steal your personal information — and even your tax return. Follow these tips to stay safe this tax season.
1) Be suspicious of any electronic communication from the “IRS”
During this time of year, scammers will use a variety of old and new schemes to try to get their hands on your sensitive data. For example, they may try the classic phishing scheme of impersonating the IRS via an official-looking email or try the new “likejacking” scheme to spam your Facebook account. Some will pretend to offer a refund or request you “verify” personal information, such as social security number or account numbers. These are all deceptive means to steal your information.
Stay safe: Know that the IRS will never contact you via email or text, or request personally identifying information electronically. If you receive one of these messages, do not click on any embedded links and forward it to email@example.com. You can also call 1-800-829-1040 to verify any supposed communication.
2) Only use legitimate tax preparation software
As tax preparation programs become more popular, they are also becoming a popular way for hackers to deploy malware and siphon data. They may advertise this fraudulent software through “discounted” or free downloads. These programs are often phony and are actually a ruse to deploy malware that infects your computer.
Stay safe: To avoid falling victim to this malicious software, only purchase well-reviewed, legitimate versions of tax preparation software directly from the manufacturer. Also beware of any phishing scams claiming to be communications from these tax preparation software companies.
3) Only get forms from the IRS
During tax season, many filers will search for the forms they need online. Knowing this, hackers create phony websites and manipulate search rankings so that these sites show up first. When you click on these sites, they may exploit vulnerabilities in your browser to steal data. They may also encourage you to download the “forms” you’re looking for, but what you’re actually downloading is malware.
Stay safe: Only download forms from the www.irs.gov. Also make sure you’re typing the URL directly into your web browser.
4) Prep your computer before you file
If you are collecting, sorting, or storing important financial information on your computer in preparation for your taxes, your personal information could be at risk if your machine is infected with malware.
Stay safe: Make sure that your computer security suite is up-to-date. Run a scan before you start work on your taxes (including logging into bank accounts) to ensure that no malware is capturing your info as you work.
5) File securely
E-filing is a convenient way to file your taxes quickly and efficiently. But with such sensitive information being sent across the web, including your social security number and financial info, hackers are eager to intercept it.
Stay safe: Make sure your firewall and anti-virus security programs are activated and updated, and only file on a secured private network.
Stay smart, now and year-round, when conducting online searches and transactions. For more tips on staying safe this tax season, check out the IRS website.