It's that time of the year again - tax season! For some, this is a period of excitement, a time to eagerly anticipate their tax refunds. On the other hand, for those owing money, it's a time of apprehension and concern.
Regardless of which category you fall into, one thing remains consistent: the need to protect your sensitive information. As the tax season often brings with it heightened emotions and stress, our decision-making faculties may be somewhat clouded. Consequently, this presents a golden opportunity for cybercriminals who are constantly looking to exploit these vulnerabilities. Indeed, tax season is a fertile hunting ground for hackers who prey on the unwary, searching for personal and financial information that's often being shared online during this time.
With that in mind, it's essential to arm ourselves with effective strategies to safeguard our information during this critical time.
Here are a few handy tips to enhance your cybersecurity this tax season:
1. Embrace the Digital Age - Consider going paperless. This not only helps to reduce environmental footprint but also keeps your information secure. Having your W2s and other crucial documents sent via a secure online platform can potentially eliminate the risk of them getting lost in transit or falling into the wrong hands.
2. Exercise Caution with Emails - Be extra vigilant when checking your emails. Avoid clicking on unfamiliar senders, and if an email looks suspicious, even if it appears to be from a recognizable source like TurboTax or H&R Block, it's best to delete it. Cybercriminals can design emails to mimic legitimate entities, tricking you into providing sensitive information. The golden rule is to visit the website directly, not via a link in an email.
3. Scrutinize Incoming Calls and Texts - Be sure to carefully screen your incoming calls and text messages. Do not respond to messages from numbers you do not recognize. Refrain from providing personal information over the phone, especially during unsolicited calls. Remember, the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment or to inform you of an unexpected refund.
4. Ensure Secure Website Use - When filing your taxes online, make sure to use secure websites with "https:" preceding the URL. It's crucial to never send sensitive data over an unsecured connection, as it can be intercepted by unauthorized parties.
5. Implement Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) - Enable 2FA on all platforms that offer it. The IRS announced in late 2020 that all tax software providers are required to incorporate multi-factor authentication, improving the security of user accounts.
6. Report Suspicious Emails - If you happen to receive an email that you suspect is phishing or scam-related, don't hesitate to report it. For work emails, inform your company's security team immediately. For personal emails, notify the IRS by sending the suspicious email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Protect Vulnerable Family Members - Unfortunately, older family members are often targets for hackers and scammers. Take the initiative to ensure they're not falling prey to scams, and make them aware of potential phone and email fraud. Spend a few minutes setting up secure passwords and 2FA for them. Your efforts could save them from serious security breaches.
In conclusion, tax season, while a necessary part of our fiscal responsibility, can also be a period of heightened risk. By staying vigilant, going digital, and implementing the right cybersecurity measures, we can make it through this period securely and confidently.