Cyber Protection – The internet has changed to the point it has created threats from criminals all around the world. They are always coming up with new ideas to separate you from your hard-earned dollars or with an illegal way to use your stolen Identity. They apply for loans and credit cards with stolen IDs, file fraudulent tax returns, make purchases with stolen credit card information, tap into your bank account with stolen account information, and the list goes on. As a result, we need cyber protection awareness, while being mindful of the schemes used by scammers to not end up becoming a victim.
We, at Total Accounting, are committed to using safeguards that protect your information from cyber theft. There are things you can do to help protect your identity. This article examines a variety of ways crooks use to steal from individuals, along with actions you can take to avoid being scammed, keep your computer secure, avoid phishing and malware, and use cyber protection to protect your personal information.
Identity Theft – The primary information ID thieves are looking for is your name, Social Security number, and birth date. Cyber protection is vital because of this. Always be vigilant of where you use your information, and always question anyone’s need for it when they ask. The fewer institutions that have your ID information, the lower the chances your data will be hacked. Treat personal information like cash; don’t hand it out to just anyone. Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, bank information, and even utility account numbers can be used to help steal a person’s money or personal information. Every time you receive a request for personal information, you should confirm whether the request is truly necessary. Thieves will do any they can to appear trustworthy and legitimate. Stolen IDs are also frequently used by cyber thieves to file fraudulent tax returns, to take advantage of refundable tax credits such as the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and the American Opportunity Education Credit, leaving you to deal with the IRS’s identity theft protocol.
Know What is in Your Wallet or Purse – What is in your wallet or purse can make a big difference if it is stolen. Besides the credit cards and whatever cash or valuables you might be carrying, you also need to be concerned about your identity being stolen, which is a far more serious issue. Think about it, your driver’s license has 2 of the 3 keys to your identity. And if you also carry your Social Security card, bingo! An identity thief then has all the information needed.
Phony emails – Be aware that an unsolicited email with a request to download an attachment or click on a URL could appear to be from someone you know, such as a friend, work colleague or tax professional. It could be that their e-mail has been hacked and someone else is sending the e-mail, hoping to trick you into some scam. Be alert for suspicious wording or content, and don’t click on any embedded links or attachments if there is any doubt, as your cyber protection will become vulnerable
Only Access Secure Websites – Only provide personal information over reputable, encrypted websites. Shopping or banking online should be done only on sites that use encryption. People should look for “https” at the beginning of a Web address (the “s” stands for “secure”) and be sure “https” is on every page of the site.
Pop-up Ads – Don’t assume Internet advertisements, pop-up ads, or e-mails are from reputable companies. If an ad or offer looks too good to be true, it most likely is not true. Take a moment to check out the company behind it. Type the company or product’s name into a search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.”
Avoid Phishing Scams – The easiest way for criminals to steal information is simply to ask for it. Learn to recognize phishing emails, calls or texts from criminals that pose as familiar organizations such as banks, credit card companies or even the IRS. These scammers generally urge taxpayers to give up sensitive data such as passwords, Social Security numbers and bank account or credit card numbers. They are called phishing scams because they attempt to lure the receiver into taking the bait. For example, you may receive a phishing email asking you to verify your password. A legitimate company will not ask for your password.
Security Protected Software – Always use security software. An anti-malware program should provide protection from viruses, Trojans, spyware and adware. Also, always keep up to date with the security software, as threats continue to emerge. Make sure the security software is always on. Invest in encryption software to ensure your data is protected from unauthorized access by hackers or identity thieves during transition.
Never download “security” software from a pop-up ad. A pervasive ploy is a pop-up ad that indicates it has detected a virus on your computer. The download most likely will install some type of malware. Legitimate security software companies do not advertise in that way.
Educate Your Children – Children are more likely to be vulnerable using the Internet than their parents and are not mindful of the hazards. Educate your children about not giving out personal information on the web. Also, block your children from freely downloading apps to their mobile devices without parental supervision.
Passwords – Use strong passwords. Longer passwords are harder to crack through cyber protection. Most websites require a minimum of eight characters, with at least one number and one character. Many sources suggest using at least 10 characters with 12 being ideal for most users. Mix letters, numbers and special characters. Try to be unpredictable – don’t use names, birthdates or common words. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts and don’t share them on the phone, in texts or by e-mail.
False Charities – Criminals pop up whenever there are natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods, trying to deceive you into making donations that will go into the scammer’s pockets and not helping the victims of the disaster. They use the phone, mail, e-mail, websites, and social networking sites to perpetrate their theft. The following are some tips to avoid fraudulent fundraisers:
- Donate to known and trusted charities. Be on the alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.
- Ask if a caller is a paid fundraiser, who he/she works for and what percentages of the donation go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If any clear answers are not provided, consider donating to a different organization.
- Don’t give out personal or financial information—including a credit card or bank account number—unless the charity is known and reputable. You might end up donating more than you had planned on.
- Never send cash. The organization may never receive the donation, and there won’t be a record for tax purposes.
- Never wire money to a charity. It’s like sending cash.
- If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help a local community agency (such as local police or firefighters), ask the people at the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.
- Verify the charity – Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch or IRS.gov.
Impersonating the IRS – Thieves will try to impersonate the IRS to frighten you into making a quick payment, without checking on the validity of you owing any taxes. Cyber protection is irrelevant to these kinds of people.
The very first thing you should be aware of is that the IRS never initiates contact in any other way than by U.S. mail. So, if you receive an e-mail or a phone call out of the blue with no prior contact, then it is a scam. DO NOT RESPOND to the e-mail or open any links included in the e-mail. If it is a phone call, simply HANG UP.
Additionally, it is important for taxpayers to know that the IRS:
- Never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone.
- Never insists that taxpayers use a specific payment method to pay tax obligations.
- Never requests immediate payment over the telephone.
- Will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. Taxpayers usually receive prior written notification of IRS enforcement action involving IRS tax liens or levies. Some scammers even threaten immediate arrest if the payment is not made immediately – don’t be bullied by these criminals.
Always check with the IRS first by calling your local IRS office to confirm any inquiries.
Back Up Files – No system is completely secure. Back up important files, including federal and state tax returns, business books and records, financials and other sensitive data onto remote storage, a removable disc or a back-up drive.
If It Is Too Good to Be True, It Probably Isn’t – Many email scams are based around supposed foreign lotto winnings, foreign inheritances, and foreign quick-buck investment schemes. Don’t let the lure of money cloud your judgement. The only one that makes out in these situations is the cybercriminal.
For more information about cyber protection, Call our office with any questions you may have at (727) 449-1835 or email us at CFO@mytotalaccounting.com.