Cybercriminals & Taxes

Image courtesy of Flickr user MoneyBlogNewz

While the general public dreads the thought of tax season, many cybercriminals look forward to it.  For most, filing taxes is a tedious but necessary civic duty.  Cybercriminals, on the other hand, excitedly view this annual event as an opportunity to illegally rob unsuspecting citizens of their money.  Fortunately, there are some tips that can help us all avoid these greedy fraudsters during tax season.

If you’ve already filed your taxes for this year, there’s always next year.  And the year after that.  And the year after that…  However, cybercriminals also launch phishing attacks at people who have already completed their taxes.  So whether you have an affinity for procrastination or were ready weeks ago, it’s good to have an idea of what cybercriminals are up to during this tax season and how you can protect yourself.

Some Specific Scams to Watch Out For:

  • One new, popular tax scam this year involves the Japan earthquake relief efforts.  Bogus emails promise that you will gain a tax credit applicable to your 2010 tax return if you make a donation to the Japan earthquake relief fund.
  • Another common ruse makes people think that they are interacting with a legitimate tax-related site, such as an official IRS site or a tax preparation service.  Scammers lure victims to these sites with spam or with black hat SEO practices.  Through black hat SEO, scammers can push their fraudulent sites to the top of search results pages by optimizing for popular tax-related search terms.
  • “Likejacking” is a new practice by which scammers trick people into “liking” their fraudulent websites.  Sometimes this is achieved by hiding a like button under another button; sometimes the hackers are able to exploit a browser weakness to inject a script that will do it for you.  Either way, once you’ve “liked” the website, your Facebook account will post a link onto the newsfeed along with a message that claims that you got hundreds of dollars for using a certain tax service.  Other friends of yours will be tempted to click on the link, but doing so will just take them to a malicious website.

Tips to Secure Your Data:

As for how to protect yourself from these and other tax-related scams, fortunately, there’s a lot you can do.  Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure your security applications and anti-virus software are up to date.
  • Be sure to use up-to-date browsers when dealing with tax-related information online.
  • When doing your taxes online, always make sure you’re on an encrypted wireless network—rather than a public, unencrypted network at a coffee shop, for example.
  • When logging in to a website that houses your private data, it should always be encrypted.  Check to make sure that the web address begins with an “HTTPS” and look for the padlock icon to confirm that you’re on an encrypted session.
  • Always log out of sites rather than just clicking the “X” to close the window.
  • Make sure to remove all sensitive tax information from your computer once you’ve completed filing your taxes.  Move it to a removable storage device for safekeeping.
  • Be suspicious of any emails you receive, especially if they look to be from the IRS.  The IRS will not send you emails during tax season, and it will certainly not ask for private banking information.
  • Furthermore, never click on any links or attachments in any unsolicited emails you might receive.

For more ideas on how to protect yourself during tax season, visit the IRS’s official site where they offer additional advice.

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