Tomorrow, April 15, is tax deadline day. As tax filers get busy trying to beat the deadline for filing their returns and submitting their documentation, cybercriminals will also work in a rush online, plying their nefarious phishing scams and stealing personal information.
An official warning from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was released last week against hackers posing as the Taxpayer Advocate Service through bogus emails. The IRS also announced that it had begun over 200 new investigations this filing season, concentrated on tax refund fraud and identity theft.
A recent IRS press release states that in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, the IRS started about 1,492 identity theft connected criminal investigations, 66% more than those initiated in FY 2012. Since January of this year, IRS Criminal Investigation has begun 295 new identity theft investigations, increasing the number of active cases to over 1,800.
As you do your final touches on your taxes, consider these steps to help you avoid from being defrauded on your taxes:
1. Know How Social Engineering can Harm You
With the increasing number of cyber attacks this tax season, make sure you proceed with caution when giving out confidential financial or banking information with others. If you get emails or phone calls from anyone presenting themselves as IRS personnel, do not give your bank account data or social security number unless you have confirmed their identity.
2. Avoid Opening Email Attachments as much as Possible
Are you aware that 1 out of 25 email attachments is considered malicious? Cybercriminals will often pose as IRS representatives, looking around for taxpayer with problems on their returns and their refunds through emails which they infect with attachments that have hidden programs to steal information or data.
Often, we cannot easily tell which files are genuine and free from malware. Use an antivirus and antimalware app to scrutinize those attachments and web downloads to minimize the risk of infecting you PC.
3. Avoid Using Public WiFi
Make it a habit to use only a private WiFi network when you file your tax return. Public WiFi hotspots may be often free and helpful, you could end up being targeted by many hackers on the prowl and compromising your personal data.
4. Use Strong Passwords to Protect Your Data
When you prepare your tax return for filing online, make sure you use a strong password to protect the file attachments.
After you finish filing your tax return, store the documents in a CD or flash drive and keep it in a safe place, then delete the documents from your hard drive. If you hire an accountant, inquire as to the how they ascertain that your data are safe and not accessible by any unauthorized persons.
5. Always Maintain Updated Antivirus and Two-way Firewall Protection
We cannot overemphasize the importance of updating your antivirus and firewall protection during tax season since cybercriminals constantly lurk in search of any access points into your system to steal personal information. Strive to set up a two-way firewall, which prevents unwelcome incoming traffic and arrests spyware and adware from sending your personal information out in the Internet. You need an antivirus application that has an efficient detection capacity and is able to identify attacks that arise between your updates.
If you believe you have become a victim to the tax return scammers and their fraudulent plans, inform the IRS as soon as you can.