Consumer Alert: IRS issues scam warning ahead of tax season, offers 10 security tips
GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - During the last year, there has been an increase in scams, identity theft, ransomware and unemployment identity theft, so cyber criminals are hard at work. Now, consumer experts are looking ahead to tax season to see what things scammers are targeting, and aim to make it more secure for people.
Action 2 News discussed those items with Christopher Miller, the IRS spokesperson for Wisconsin, on the heels of National Tax Security Week.
“First of all, we always expect to see a spike in scams around the holiday season, but we’re expecting it to be worse this year, because we know the crooks are using new ways - new lures, new buzzwords, new ways to attract new victims,” said Miller. “The IRS Security Summit, which is a partnership between software providers and state agencies has been rather successful in ways to combat tax identity theft, but that means the crooks are looking for new ways to attract victims. They’re using new ways like messaging, and buzz words like ‘COVID’ and ‘stimulus’. In fact, in Wisconsin alone this year, the Federal Trade Commission reports 6,000 cases where there was identity theft or fraud related to those two terms alone: COVID or stimulus - and that resulted in about $6 million in losses to the people of Wisconsin, and a thousand of those cases are related to online shopping, so we want you to know this is a significant problem that isn’t going away, and to make sure people remain vigilant.”
Miller adds the scammers will likely reach out in a fraudulent way, such as e-mail, text or a social media post, and will ask you to click on an attachment or link that will take you to a fake website that will try and steal your information.
“They may look legitimate - they often do. It could look like it’s coming from the IRS, or your bank, but it’s a fake account,” said Miller. “We don’t want people to click on any attachments or links because that’s not the way the IRS does business.”
The Security Summit mentioned by Miller offers these 10 steps to help you protect sensitive information:
- Don’t forget to use security software for computers, tablets and mobile phones – and keep it updated. Protect electronic devices of family members, especially teens and young children.
- Make sure anti-virus software for computers has a feature to stop malware, and there is a firewall enabled that can prevent intrusions.
- Phishing scams – like imposter emails, calls and texts -- are the No. 1 way thieves steal personal data. Don’t open links or attachments on suspicious emails. This year, fraud scams related to COVID-19, Economic Impact Payments and other tax law changes are common.
- Use strong and unique passwords for online accounts. Use a phrase or series of words that can be easily remembered or use a password manager.
- Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. Many email providers and social media sites offer this feature. It helps prevent thieves from easily hacking accounts.
- Shop at sites where the web address begins with “https” – the “s” is for secure communications over the computer network. Also, look for the “padlock” icon in the browser window.
- Don’t shop on unsecured public Wi-Fi in places like a mall. Remember, thieves can eavesdrop.
- At home, secure home Wi-Fis with a password. With more homes connected to the web, secured systems become more important, from wireless printers, wireless door locks to wireless thermometers. These can be access points for identity thieves.
- Back up files on computers and mobile phones. A cloud service or an external hard drive can be used to copy information from computers or phones – providing an important place to recover financial or tax data.
- Working from home? Consider creating a virtual private network (VPN) to securely connect to your workplace.
The IRS adds there are other places to find information about taxes, such as the YouTube videos found at the bottom of this article.
In addition, officials say employers can share THIS FORM with employees and customers, while tax professionals can share it with clients.
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