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During the holiday season, the Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit Partners warns consumers to protect themselves from potential identity thieves. This is a season for online shopping and an abundance of emails or texts from friends and family.
IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig stated, "Do not let this be the most wonderful time of the year for identity thieves. The approach of the holidays and tax season increases risk for taxpayers and opportunities for criminals. We urge people to be extra careful with their personal and financial information during this period while shopping online or getting suspicious emails or text. Taking a few simple steps can keep people from becoming victims of identity theft and protect their sensitive personal information needed for tax returns and refunds."
The Security Summit partners caution that identity thieves continue to update and enhance their strategies. Scammers are always attempting to obtain personal and sensitive information. This information may then be used to file a fraudulent tax return and claim a refund.
The IRS offered some useful security tips for the holiday season.
Security Software All computers, tablets and mobile phones should have security software that is regularly updated, as well as anti-virus software that protects against malware. Parents should also be cautious with the electronic devices of teens and younger children.
Phishing Scams The number one way identity thieves steal personal data is through emails that contain phishing links. If you do not know the sender, do not open a link or click on an attachment. Many of the phishing emails this year continue to focus on COVID-19, Economic Impact Payments or the latest tax legislation.
Strong Passwords You should use strong passwords to ensure security for online accounts. Many individuals use a phrase or a series of words that can be easily remembered. An excellent alternative is to use a password manager on your smartphone to maintain unique passwords for each online account.
Two-Factor Authentication Many email providers and social media sites offer two-factor authentication. Nearly all banks and financial institutions also enable you to use this service. You will be able to enter your password and receive a code on your phone. Entering both a password and a code ensures a higher level of security.
Public Wi-Fi Be careful when using public Wi-Fi. Your home Wi-Fi normally is protected with a password. However, public Wi-Fi is frequently unsecured and identity thieves can monitor your session. This could give the scammers the opportunity to learn your logins and passwords for key accounts.
Backup Files Your computer and smartphone contain extensive information. You may want to use a cloud service or an external hard drive to backup information. You can use a search tool to search for how to backup a computer and learn about many of the options available.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) A VPN is a secure way to connect to your office network. The VPN protects the data transferred back and forth from being viewed by an identity thief.
Editor's Note: You also may want to consider viewing IRS YouTube videos. Two of the more popular videos are "Easy Steps to Protect Your Computer and Phone" and "Here is How to Avoid IRS Text Message Scams." The videos are concise and informative.