June 14, 2019, 10:22 AM
We secure our valuables – our wallets, keys, and homes. We know that, if left unsecured, they can easily be a target for criminals. So it makes sense to think the same way about the information stored on all our devices.
Computers, tablets, phones and other personal devices hold your emails and your financial and tax documents (with your Social Security numbers). Criminals who get access to this valuable information can commit identity theft, put harmful software on your devices, or both.
What’s one easy way to help protect all of this sensitive information? Update your software regularly, and as soon as possible when a newer version comes out. What’s an even easier way? Set the updates to happen automatically. Don’t ignore reminders to update. Criminals look to exploit vulnerabilities before the software companies can fix it. Delaying gives hackers time to access your information – even when a patch is out there to lock them out.
So what software should you be updating?
Source: Federal Trade Commission
- Security software. Whether you use antivirus or firewall programs that were pre-installed on your device or that you bought on your own, make sure they’re up to date.
- Operating system software. Your operating system could be Windows, Apple OS, etc. If you’re not sure how to update your operating system, go to the website of your device manufacturer for help.
- Internet browsers and apps. Both are access points for criminals to enter your devices, so it’s important to keep them secure.
June 10, 2019, 2:25 PM
Although the April filing deadline has passed, scam artists remain hard at work, and the IRS today urged taxpayers to be on the lookout for a spring surge of evolving phishing emails and telephone scams.
The IRS is seeing signs of two new variations of tax-related scams. One involves Social Security numbers related to tax issues and another threatens people with a tax bill from a fictional government agency. Here are some details:
- The SSN hustle. The latest twist includes scammers claiming to be able to suspend or cancel the victim’s Social Security number. In this variation, the Social Security cancellation threat scam is similar to and often associated with the IRS impersonation scam. It is yet another attempt by con artists to frighten people into returning ‘robocall’ voicemails. Scammers may mention overdue taxes in addition to threatening to cancel the person’s SSN.
- Fake tax agency. This scheme involves the mailing of a letter threatening an IRS lien or levy. The lien or levy is based on bogus delinquent taxes owed to a non-existent agency, “Bureau of Tax Enforcement.” There is no such agency. The lien notification scam also likely references the IRS to confuse potential victims into thinking the letter is from a legitimate organization.
Both display classic signs of being scams. The IRS and its Security Summit partners – the state tax agencies and the tax industry – remind everyone to stay alert to scams that use the IRS or reference taxes, especially in late spring and early summer as tax bills and refunds arrive.
The IRS does not leave pre-recorded, urgent or threatening messages. In many variations of the phone scam, victims are told if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Other verbal threats include law-enforcement agency intervention, deportation or revocation of licenses.
Criminals can fake or “spoof” caller ID numbers to appear to be anywhere in the country, including from an IRS office. This prevents taxpayers from being able to verify the true call number. Fraudsters also have spoofed local sheriff’s offices, state departments of motor vehicles, federal agencies and others to convince taxpayers the call is legitimate.
Email phishing scams
The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. However, there are special circumstances when the IRS will call or come to a home or business. These visits include times when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or the IRS needs to tour a business as part of a civil investigation (such as an audit or collection case) or during criminal investigation.
If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or a program closely linked to the IRS that is fraudulent, report it by sending it to email@example.com. The Report Phishing and Online Scams page provides complete details.
Telltale signs of a scam
The IRS (and its authorized private collection agencies) will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
For anyone who doesn’t owe taxes and has no reason to think they do:
- Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
- Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page.
- Report the caller ID and/or callback number to the IRS by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject: IRS Phone Scam).
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov. Add "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.
For anyone who owes tax or thinks they do:
The IRS does not use text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds. For more information, visit the Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts page on IRS.gov. Additional information about tax scams is also available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube videos.
May 28, 2019, 9:14 AM
It’s almost summer! Right now, you probably have beaches on the brain or you’re thinking about that long-planned trip abroad. Before you head out, take steps to help keep your dream vacation from becoming a nightmare:
Do some research — and then carefully read the details on travel offers.
- First, get recommendations from family and friends on good travel agencies, vacation rentals, hotels and travel packages — before responding to offers.
- Look up travel companies, hotels, rentals and agents with the words “scam,” “review,” or “complaint.”
- Look for extra costs. Resort fees (also known as destination, facility and amenity fees) can add $50 or more to your nightly cost.
- Ask about taxes, which may be significant in many locations.
- Get a copy of the cancellation and refund policies before you pay.
- If you’re buying travel insurance, be sure the agency is licensed.
- Bring copies of any confirmation details that show the rate and amenities you were promised. This also helps if the hotel or host says your reservation is “lost.”
Don’t pay for “prize” vacations. No legitimate company will ask you to pay for a prize. Also, look for catches to resort or timeshare offers. They may come with taxes and fees to pay, timeshare presentations to attend, and high-pressure sales pitches to endure.
Don’t sign anything until you know the terms of the deal. Say “no thanks” to anyone who tries to rush you, without giving you time to consider the offer.
Use a credit card, if possible, for your travel spending. This gives you more protection than paying by cash or debit card — and it may be easier to dispute unauthorized charges.
Protect your identity and account information while you’re traveling.
Source: Federal Trade Commission
April 29, 2019, 11:22 AM
Online games and websites for kids are everywhere these days – to the point where it’s commonplace to see toddlers playing with them, too. And while the internet often offers a positive way for children to explore and learn, privacy concerns are lurking. To help protect children’s privacy, the FTC enforces the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires websites and online services to obtain consent from parents before collecting personal information from kids younger than 13.
According to the FTC, i-Dressup, a website allowing users to play dress-up games, and its owners violated COPPA by collecting personal information from kids – including names, email addresses, and user names – without obtaining parental consent and failing to take reasonable steps to protect this information. This led to a breach of i-Dressup’s network in August 2016. As a result of the breach, a hacker accessed the personal information and account passwords of over two million i-Dressup users, including at least 245,000 children under 13.
So how can you protect your child online? Here are some tips:
- Talk to your kids about what they’re doing online. Find out which games, social networking sites, and other online activities your kids are into and make sure you are comfortable with them.
- Talk to your children about the implications of providing personal information.
- Help your kids understand what information should stay private. Tell your kids why it's important to keep information like Social Security numbers, street addresses, phone numbers, and financial information private.
- Learn more about how to protect your child when he’s online.
- File a complaint with the FTC if you think a site has put your child’s privacy at risk.
Source: Federal Trade Commission
March 05, 2019, 10:00 AM
WASHINGTON — Kicking off the annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams, the Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers of the ongoing threat of internet phishing scams that lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.
The IRS warns taxpayers, businesses and tax professionals to be alert for a continuing surge of fake emails, text messages, websites and social media attempts to steal personal information. These attacks tend to increase during tax season and remain a major danger of identity theft.
To help protect taxpayers against these and other threats, the IRS highlights one scam on 12 consecutive week days to help raise awareness. Phishing schemes are the first of the 2019 “Dirty Dozen” scams.
“Taxpayers should be on constant guard for these phishing schemes, which can be tricky and cleverly disguised to look like it’s the IRS,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Watch out for emails and other scams posing as the IRS, promising a big refund or personally threatening people. Don’t open attachments and click on links in emails. Don’t fall victim to phishing or other common scams.”
The IRS also urges taxpayers to learn how to protect themselves by reviewing safety tips prepared by the Security Summit, a collaborative effort between the IRS, state revenue departments and the private-sector tax community.
“Taking some basic security steps and being cautious can help protect people and their sensitive tax and financial data,” Rettig said.
New variations on phishing schemes
The IRS continues to see a steady stream of new and evolving phishing schemes as criminals work to victimize taxpayers throughout the year. Whether through legitimate-looking emails with fake, but convincing website landing pages, or social media approaches, perhaps using a shortened URL, the end goal is the same for these con artists: stealing personal information.
In one variation, taxpayers are victimized by a creative scheme that involves their own bank account. After stealing personal data and filing fraudulent tax returns, criminals use taxpayers' bank accounts to direct deposit tax refunds. Thieves then use various tactics to reclaim the refund from the taxpayer, including falsely claiming to be from a collection agency or the IRS. The IRS encourages taxpayers to review some basic tips if they see an unexpected deposit in their bank account.
Schemes aimed at tax pros, payroll offices, human resources personnel
The IRS has also seen more advanced phishing schemes targeting the personal or financial information available in the files of tax professionals, payroll professionals, human resources personnel, schools and organizations such as Form W-2 information. These targeted scams are known as business email compromise (BEC) or business email spoofing (BES) scams.
Depending on the variation of the scam (and there are several), criminals will pose as:
- a business asking the recipient to pay a fake invoice
- as an employee seeking to re-route a direct deposit
- or as someone the taxpayer trusts or recognizes, such as an executive, to initiate a wire transfer.
The IRS warned of the direct deposit variation of the BEC/BES scam in December 2018, and continues to receive reports of direct deposit scams reported to email@example.com. The Direct Deposit and other BEC/BES variations should be forwarded to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IRS requests that Form W-2 scams be reported to: firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject: W-2 Scam).
Criminals may use the email credentials from a successful phishing attack, known as an email account compromise, to send phishing emails to the victim’s email contacts. Tax preparers should be wary of unsolicited email from personal or business contacts especially the more commonly observed scams, like new client solicitations.
Malicious emails and websites can infect a taxpayer’s computer with malware without the user knowing it. The malware downloads in the background, giving the criminal access to the device, enabling them to access any sensitive files or even track keyboard strokes, exposing login victim’s information.
For those participating in these schemes, such activity can lead to significant penalties and possible criminal prosecution. Both the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), which handles scams involving IRS impersonation, and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division work closely with the Department of Justice to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.
Tax professional alert
Numerous data breaches across the country mean the tax preparation community must be on high alert to unusual activity, particularly during the tax filing season. Criminals increasingly target tax professionals, deploying various types of phishing emails in an attempt to access client data. Thieves may use this data to impersonate taxpayers and file fraudulent tax returns for refunds.
As part of the Security Summit initiative, the IRS has joined with representatives of the software industry, tax preparation firms, payroll and tax financial product processors and state tax administrators to combat identity theft refund fraud to protect the nation's taxpayers.
The Security Summit partners encourage tax practitioners to be wary of communicating solely by email with potential or existing clients, especially if unusual requests are made. Data breach thefts have given thieves millions of identity data points including names, addresses, Social Security numbers and email addresses. If in doubt, tax practitioners should call to confirm a client’s identity.
Reporting phishing attempts
If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email or social media attempt that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), they should report it by sending it to email@example.com. Learn more by going to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page on IRS.gov.
Tax professionals who receive unsolicited and suspicious emails that appear to be from the IRS and/or are tax-related (like those related to the e-Services program) also should report it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The IRS generally does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels.
February 04, 2019, 8:17 PM
Changes in banking technology make managing your refund safer and easier than ever
Here are a few tips to ensure that your refund arrives as quickly and safely as possible as well as some ideas on how to get the most out of your money when it does.
The Refund Process
Once you have submitted your federal taxes and know you have a refund coming to you, the fastest way to get your tax refund is to have it electronically deposited into your financial account through the IRS’s Direct Deposit Program. It’s free to consumers, and it allows you to deposit your refund into as many as three separate accounts.
While you can still receive your refund in the form of a paper check, there are several advantages to direct deposit. Not only is it faster, direct deposit is also more secure. Refund checks sent through the mail can be lost, stolen, or returned to the IRS, if undeliverable. If you don’t already have a bank account, this might be the perfect time to open one.
Another option is to have your refund deposited onto a prepaid card. If you use a prepaid card, read the fine print and make sure you know how to deposit money onto the card and any fees involved. Cards differ in the types of deposits allowed, the process for receiving government deposits, and the fees charged for certain transactions. If you set up a new prepaid card account for your refund, you may be required to provide information to validate your identity, such as your Social Security number and date of birth.
Whichever method you choose, you can track the status of your federal tax return from the time the IRS received it by visiting https://sa.www4.irs.gov/and filling out the appropriate information, or by downloading the mobile app IRS2GO at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs2goapp.
For more information on tax refunds, visit https://www.irs.gov/refunds.
Protect Your Money from Tax Scams
If your personally identifiable information (PII), such as your name, address, and Social Security number, has been stolen, the information can be used to open credit cards and loans or file a fraudulent tax return in your name, allowing the thief to claim your refund. If you suspect that your information was stolen, contact the IRS by calling 800-908-4490 or visiting the IRS website for identity protection at https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams.
Be wary of phone calls and emails from anyone claiming to be from the IRS. Identity thieves have been known to pose as IRS agents, providing a fake name and IRS badge number and even creating a fake phone number that appears on caller ID as coming from the IRS. These thieves often threaten people with audits, deportation, and other legal action or promise checks for unclaimed funds.
The IRS typically does not initiate emails to individuals asking for personal information. Before acting on any phone call or email purportedly from the IRS, call the agency at 800-829-1040. An agent will be able to verify whether the IRS is in fact trying to get in touch with you. If you are certain the contact was part of a scam, report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration by calling 800-366-4484. You can also report unsolicited emails by forwarding it to mailto:phishing@IRS.gov.
Some people use tax preparers to assist them with preparing their tax return. While most tax preparers are recognized professionals who can be very helpful, some preparers are scammers. Be wary of tax preparers who advertise with fliers or posters promising large refunds or special inside knowledge of little known tax credits and rebates or those volunteering to come to your home to prepare your taxes. These scammers make money stealing your personal information for later use and collecting fees. If you aren’t sure, ask for the tax preparer’s PTIN, which is the IRS tax preparer identification number that all legitimate preparers must have. Also, ask the preparer for references.
For more information on protecting your tax refund, visit: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumer-alerts and https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/assistance/protection/idtheft.html.
What to Do With Your Refund
Once you have received your refund, you need to decide what to do with it. Many people use tax refunds to make large purchases they might not have the cash for at other times of the year. It can also provide a great opportunity to start a new savings option, contribute to your emergency fund, or reduce outstanding debt.
The IRS allows you to divide your federal tax refund into two or three additional financial accounts. By splitting your refund, you have a convenient option for managing your money – sending some of your refund to an account for immediate use and setting some aside for savings. For example, you could have part of your refund deposited to your checking account and the remainder sent to your Individual Retirement Account, or you might use some of your refund to purchase U.S. Series I Savings Bonds. (For more information on purchasing Savings Bonds with your tax refund, visit https://www.treasurydirect.gov)
You may also want to consider using your refund to start or augment emergency savings. Having emergency savings provides peace of mind when something unexpected occurs, such as a major car or home repair. The amount to set aside for your emergency fund will depend on factors such as your monthly expenses and the number of people in your household, but the general rule of thumb is to save at least three to six months’ worth of expenses.
If you are carrying a credit card balance, think about using your tax refund to pay it down or even pay it off. To get the most from your money, it may make sense to pay off a credit card with a high interest rate, compounding against you month after month. Going this route allows you to have more money every month once that credit card payment vanishes from your list of bills, and it can help build your credit as you reduce that debt.
Making extra payments on your mortgage may be another way to use your refund, saving you money over the long term. Since so much of your mortgage payment goes toward paying interest, using your tax refund to make an extra payment or two against the principal will go a long way to reducing the debt and overall cost of the loan.
If you are getting a tax refund this year, remember to take steps to keep your refund safe, know the refund options available to you, and consider different ways to make your money work harder for you.