Before holiday shopping, make sure you’re protecting your personal and financial information online
RAPID CITY, S.D. — It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but not just for those celebrating the holidays. Scammers looking to steal personal or financial information ahead of next year’s tax season are out in full force.
That’s why the Internal Revenue Service has proclaimed this week as National Tax Security Awareness Week.
Before you do that holiday shopping, experts say you should take stock of your online safety habits.
Update your security software and make sure you’re not clicking on suspicious texts or emails. Don’t shop on unsecured public WI-FI networks and be sure you’re looking for sites with an “https” address; the “s” stands for “secure communications.”
And don’t forget the basics – your passwords.
“Once you get over 14- or 15-characters, it becomes almost impossible to crack, so you want to use something that that you can remember,” says Rick Kahler, president of Kahler Financial. “There’s all sorts of password protection sites like Lastpass…Roboform is the one I use, where you can save all your passwords.”
In addition to basic safety precautions, Kahler says that before you make any charitable donations, you should vet the organization first.
“There’s a online site you can go to that the IRS provides where you can see if their tax status has been rejected; I got on that site [Tuesday] and found out all sorts of very legitimate-sounding sites in this area – charities – [whose] tax status have been rejected,” Kahler adds.
Kahler also says that taxpayers can get an IRS Identity Protection PIN to protect themselves and their Social Security Number when filing.
To help taxpayers and tax professionals, the Security Summit offers 10 basic steps everyone should remember during the holidays and as the 2022 tax season approaches:
- Don’t forget to use security software for computers, tablets and mobile phones – and keep it updated. Protect electronic devices of family members, especially teens and young children.
- Make sure anti-virus software for computers has a feature to stop malware, and there is a firewall enabled that can prevent intrusions.
- Phishing scams – like imposter emails, calls and texts — are the No. 1 way thieves steal personal data. Don’t open links or attachments on suspicious emails. This year, fraud scams related to COVID-19, Economic Impact Payments and other tax law changes are common.
- Use strong and unique passwords for online accounts. Use a phrase or series of words that can be easily remembered or use a password manager.
- Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. Many email providers and social media sites offer this feature. It helps prevent thieves from easily hacking accounts.
- Shop at sites where the web address begins with “https” – the “s” is for secure communications over the computer network. Also, look for the “padlock” icon in the browser window.
- Don’t shop on unsecured public Wi-Fi in places like a mall. Remember, thieves can eavesdrop.
- At home, secure home Wi-Fis with a password. With more homes connected to the web, secured systems become more important, from wireless printers, wireless door locks to wireless thermometers. These can be access points for identity thieves.
- Back up files on computers and mobile phones. A cloud service or an external hard drive can be used to copy information from computers or phones – providing an important place to recover financial or tax data.
- Working from home? Consider creating a virtual private network (VPN) to securely connect to your workplace.
The IRS will continue with its social media campaign all week to help share information with taxpayers and preparers. You can follow along on Twitter and Instagram @IRSnews and #tax security
CLICK HERE to use the IRS Tax Exempt Organization search tool.