Hackers and Tax Scams

It’s tax season again and as millions of Americans rush to their computers to get those last-minute returns in, hackers around the world are looking to cash in as well.  Those who are too hasty in trying to get those final returns in can find themselves easy prey of these cyber-criminals if they are not careful.  The key is to be diligent, observant and keep these tips in mind:

  • This first tip should be a complete given, even when it’s not tax time, but hold on to your social security number like it is your life.  Do not give this information out except to a trusted source like the Internal Revenue Service and only then when you see that the website you are on begins https instead of http.  This add “-s” indicates that the site is secure.  Once a hacker gets a hold on your social security number, you can be the victim of identity theft.  Your number can be sold to dozens of other people, some of whom could try using the number to file tax returns.  And if that’s the case, don’t be surprised if you hear from the IRS about an audit coming up.
  • If your information is compromised, report it immediately and then do everything necessary to make sure you are not the victim of identity theft.  Even the IRS is not infallible, as shown last year when the computers of the South Carolina branch were hacked.  The government quickly provided those affected with assistance to prevent their identities from being bought and sold on the open market.
  • Be wary of web sites that aren’t from reputable companies.  If you aren’t sure if a company is to be trusted, use a search engine to look for reviews.  If they are legitimate, you should be able to find multiple sources confirming this.  But, unfortunately, many web sites are set up promising quick returns and guarantees of big refunds when in fact they are designed by hackers to get your personal information including your bank account.
  • If it’s not a fake website, you also have to worry about fake software.  Installing it may install a Trojan virus that then gives the hackers backdoor access into your computer, your bank account, and your life.  That is why it is so important to keep all of your virus software up-to-date.
  • We’ve said it before and we have to say it again.  Don’t click on strange emails.  If that email comes in saying it is from the IRS with information about your refund, ignore it.  The IRS doesn’t work that way.  Clicking on one could wind up installing a dangerous Trojan virus such as Zeus, a nasty little program which will lie in wait until you go to your bank website to do some online banking and then hijack all of your financial information.

The bottom line is, even when it is tax season, not much changes about online security.  Computer users should simply be more diligent about how they conduct their business and be more careful about avoiding viruses and other criminal traps and tricks.  If you do receive one of these emails, the important thing to do is report it as soon as possible to the IRS so that they can shut them down.

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