Technology has been rapidly evolving for several years now, even more since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Over the last year our dependence on emails, computers, phones, and various software programs to stay up to date with work and personal life has undoubtedly increased. Unfortunately, hackers’ techniques have continued to evolve during the pandemic as well. Most of us by this point have received typical junk mail for shopping, phone calls for car warranties, and of course the most recent – tax scams! The IRS continues to warn Americans of specific tax scams to be on high alert about. These scams have tricked people into believing their legitimacy by playing off of the public’s misunderstandings of the quickly changing tax laws and also by using extremely realistic phishing content. With so many questions on the new tax measures, many individuals find themselves searching extensively over the internet looking for answers. Below are a few situations to be aware of and some tips on how to avoid their traps.
1. Economic Impact Payments/Stimulus Checks
a) Taxpayers may receive emails, phone calls, texts, or even physical mail. Be cautious when clicking on email attachments or links and delete any potential threats if possible. Block and report any potentially suspicious activity.
b) Main targets have been elderly individuals and those who filed their returns via direct deposit. Cybercriminals will often try to capture login credentials by pretending to be a trusted source (a company or person) and attempt to obtain your personal information. They can then try to gain access to your personal routing and account numbers. Reminder: the IRS will only initiate with a taxpayer via verified US mail, so be careful not to fall for any alternative forms of communication.
c) For those who elected for physical checks, checks can be taken from mailboxes. Any potentially lost checks should be reported to the US Postal Service.
2. Unemployment Benefits
a) Covid-19 has caused a historic amount of unemployment claims. Cybercriminals have the capability of tapping into individual bank accounts or attempting to change bank account numbers to deposit to a different source. Be sure to enable available security features and privacy settings as well as notifications to alert you of transactions.
b) Fake unemployment forms exist – they could be sent electronically or physically mailed. Hackers have been reported to file claims on behalf of individuals using stolen information.
3. Child Tax Credit Payments
a) Tax payments began this July to eligible US taxpayers based on their 2019 & 2020 tax returns and are already considered the most vulnerable form of spam.
b) Watch out for any forms of communication expressing help to speed up payments or to help track payments (only valid source would be the IRS.gov portal)
c) The most common scam of the new child tax credits are phone calls and emails offering to help walk you through the signup process for the payments. Be aware that eligible taxpayers are automatically accounted for by the IRS based on 2019 and 2020 tax returns and will be issued payments directly.
These latest tax scams are all avoidable by taking proper cybersecurity measures, remaining alert/vigilant, and reporting any potentially suspicious activity. Be sure to enable two-factor account authorization when available and turn on available alerts for bank/credit card transactions. When in doubt about a source it is best to err on the side of caution. Technology is a great advancement in our society, but unfortunately, it also comes with the risk of cybersecurity threats. By implementing some simple strategies correctly, you can help reduce your risk and hopefully stop costly breaches before they happen.