March and April usher in several spring-time events: St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, and another annual American ritual — tax time! I’m so glad I don’t have to file taxes. It’s one of the benefits of being a dog. Unfortunately, tax season is prime time for cyber criminals to strike. The IRS expects more than 150 million individual returns to be filed this year, with four out of five returns (above 80 percent) to be filed electronically. Included within those returns are social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, birthdates, and financial records for millions of Americans, which leaves the Internet teeming with highly confidential information.
According to a study done by a financial strategy company called Javelin, the total number of identity theft victims in 2015 was 13.1 million, totaling $15 billion. In its most recent report, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed that, in 2014, they received more than 2.58 million reports of consumer fraud. I wonder how many cats are involved in fraud. They seem pretty suspicious, to me! Among fraud complaints:
- The average amount lost by alleged victims was approximately $2,000.
- The median figure of loss was about $500.
- In total, approximately $1.7 billion was lost by self-reported victims of fraud.
- The most common methods of initial contact by fraud perpetrators was telephone (54%) and email (23%).
If you electronically file your taxes, here are some tips to help keep your data safe:
- Vet the provider who electronically files your return. Authorized e-filers are registered on the IRS website at gov.
- Monitor your social media presence. Google yourself to uncover any bogus Facebook, or LinkedIn information using your name.
- Beware of scam Facebook mess Clicking on a tax-related link in your newsfeed may be convenient. But it could connect you to a phishing site. I think that people who scam with spam are scum.
- Optimize your security. Use the latest, most comprehensive firewalls, anti-spam/virus software. Also, update security patches and choose strong passwords to protect your online return. When possible, enable two-step authentication, which adds an additional security step required for login. Here is a link to comprehensive instructions for installing two-step authentication on a variety of computer platforms: org/2stepsahead/resources
- File your tax return ONLY on secure HTTPS sites. These encrypted sites will safeguard your information. So make sure a picture of a little lock appears in the website address field.
- Beware of Wi-Fi hotspots. If you need to access a bank account while you are out, don’t use public Internet service. Cyber criminals can potentially intercept Internet connections while you are filing highly personal information. Don’t do anything relative to your taxes while using public Wi-Fi. Experian reports that seven percent of people do their taxes while logged into unsecured networks.
- When in doubt, throw it out. Links in emails could direct your computer to malicious sites. If an email appears weird, even if you recognize the sender, delete it.
- Carefully screen emails that appear to have come from your bank. If they do not contain your financial institution’s website domain name, immediately report the breach to your bank. And don’t forget to delete!
- Shred documents that contain personal data. Doing so is worth the hassle, because many criminals dig through trash cans in search of sensitive information.
- Don’t respond to emails claiming to be from the IRS. The IRS does not contact people by mail.
- Never download documents from or click on links in tax-related emails. One click could unleash information-gathering malware on your computer.
- Refrain from doing tax-related researching using your web browser. You could be lured to a malicious site.
This year, taxes must be filed by April 18, because Emancipation Day falls on the regular deadline of April 15. Nice that we get a few days of tax relief because of the holiday! So take the extra few days to make sure you are cyber safe. Remember that Internet safety is a daily priority, not just during tax season. So be sure to think about ways to #BeSafe all of the time. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.