THIEVES and hackers are stepping up their efforts to steal taxpayer money and data this Christmas season by posing as IRS officials in elaborate phishing scams.
In a statement, the IRS said that “the combination of holiday shopping season, upcoming tax season and the pandemic creates additional opportunities for criminals to steal sensitive personal or financial information.”
“This year, fraudulent scams linked to COVID-19, economic impact payments and other changes in tax law are common,” the agency warned.
In an effort to keep Americans safe, the IRS has shared guidelines for avoiding scams and phishing attempts this holiday season.
Beware of gift card scams
Gift card scams have become more and more popular because they often use hacked or spoofed email addresses and appear legitimate at first glance.
If you receive an email or text from a friend, loved one, colleague, or agency telling you that you need to buy and send gift cards to a certain address, beware. you.
And as the IRS points out, remember that no federal agency will ever ask you to pay unpaid contributions with a gift card.
“The agency will not request or accept gift cards as payment for a tax bill,” the IRS said in a statement.
Hackers posing as IRS officials send emails asking for gift card purchases.
A con artist could “tell the taxpayer their identity was stolen and used to open bogus bank accounts,” the IRS wrote, and tell the victim that she must pay a fictitious tax penalty.
After asking the taxpayer to buy gift cards from stores or restaurants, the scammer asks the taxpayer for the card number and PIN.
But the IRS will never call or send emails to make these kinds of requests.
âTypically, the IRS first sends an invoice to any taxpayer who owes taxes,â the agency writes.
If you receive a phishing email from someone posing as an IRS official, forward it to email@example.com.
Update your antivirus and activate the firewall
The IRS has advised computer users to check their security settings and update their antivirus software before the holiday season.
âMake sure that computer antivirus software has a function to stop malware, and that there is a firewall enabled that can prevent intrusions,â the agency said.
If your family members are still learning to use the internet safely, especially teens or young children, increase their safety settings for them.
And remember, it’s not just your office that needs a security check.
âRemember to use security software for computers, tablets and cellphones – and keep it up to date,â the IRS said.
Check the sites where you shop
In the rush to claim vacation bargains, you may click on a favorite website to make a purchase, but inadvertently share your private financial information with hackers.
A website that looks like a normal online store can have serious vulnerabilities that open your credit card information to hackers.
“Buy from sites where the web address begins with ‘https’ – the ‘s’ is for secure communications over the computer network,” the IRS reminded buyers.
And in the URL bar, look for a “padlock” symbol that indicates that the site is secure.
Do not make an online purchase if the website is not confirmed to be secure.
Use two-factor verification and strong passwords
Before Christmas and New Years, update old passwords in favor of the stronger ones.
Make sure they’re unique for each website, and consider using a password manager if you’re reluctant to have different passwords for each account.
And enable two-step verification, also known as multi-factor authentication, on any app or website that allows it.
âMany email providers and social media sites offer this feature,â the IRS said.
“It helps prevent thieves from easily hacking into accounts.”
Buy online at home, on secure WiFi
Even if you see an expensive item in the store, but find a good deal online when you search for it on your phone, resist the urge to make the purchase until you are home.
âDon’t buy over an unsecured public Wi-Fi network in places like a shopping mall. Remember thieves can spy,â the IRS said.
And at home, set a strong WiFi password, even if it’s tempting to leave your internet connection insecure so vacationers have easy connectivity.
“With more and more homes connected to the web, secure systems are becoming more important, from wireless printers to wireless door locks to wireless thermometers,” the IRS said.
These hotspots are convenient for you, but they are also accessible to identity thieves.
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