Google has announced that advertisers on its platforms will have to verify their identities and their businesses. They will have 30 days to comply.
On its face, this seems like common sense and a good idea. The Internet has been rife with fraudulent Covid-19 schemes targeting stimulus checks, selling snake oil cures and price gouging on hard to acquire products. The reality is less clearcut.
Where’s The Data?
The first issue here is Google’s track record when it comes to data mining and privacy. The company is the most successful, and also one of the most appetitive compilers of personal information in digital media.
While it’s fairly common knowledge that Google’s Chrome browser is no stranger to controversy when it comes to tracking users and collecting data, there is more worrisome activity that gets far less attention. The company aggregates data from its phones, tablets, home media devices, personal assistants, website searches, analytics platform, and even offline credit card transactions. To say that it already has access to data about businesses and individuals would be an understatement and only serves to underscore what’s wrong with this latest initiative.
There has been plenty of opportunity for Google put its vast stores of data to use in the identification of bad actors on its platforms with a greater level of sophistication than anything that could be gleaned from digital copies of personal and employee identification numbers or business incorporation documents. They already have everything they need to determine if someone is from the U.S. or Uzbekistan.
Occam’s Razor points to two explanations. First, Google is doing what it does best: collecting more information. Two, Google is doing what it does best: using information to solve an information problem. Either way, it’s not a very memorable solution.
Ignoring the Realities of Business Identity Theft
it seems naive to take the position that the submission of digital copies of documents can provide a reliable way to establish the identity of a particular business. In an era where Social Security numbers and tax IDs can be bought by the millions on the dark web and computers are capable of rendering real-time deepfakes on video conference calls, faking a document or credentials is child’s play for any scammer worth his or her Bitcoin.
For starters, this easily flouted protocol engenders a false sense of security for internet users who assume Google’s verification process works. If this sounds cynical, remember that Facebook tried something like this following the widespread manipulation of its platform during the 2016 election. It failed.
This practice also puts a target on businesses. At a minimum, it will require the widespread transmission of digital copies of potentially sensitive business documents, which opens the door to scammers trying to intercept that data. Business identity theft is a very real threat, and access to a business’s credentials can leave it vulnerable to data breaches, fraud, cyberattacks, and worse. At a maximum, it could actually boost the market for illicit or compromised information on businesses as a means of supplying fake credentials to Google.
We’ve seen time and again that scammers are creative and extremely persistent when it comes to gaining access to sensitive data, and we can only assume any ill-considered move to protect data will be viewed as a growth opportunity for cybercriminals.
The term “security theater” gained popularity after the implementation of TSA security measures in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and it seems applicable here.
Google’s new policies seem like marketing more than security. While it’s likely to make customers and businesses that use its online advertising platform feel more safer, it could easily have the opposite effect.
A company with Google’s reach, resources, and oftentimes incredibly granular data isn’t likely to be made any more secure by collecting and gathering digital documents from its clients. It might, however, be putting businesses at greater risk of fraud and data compromise.
Several state governments have been targeted by a sophisticated fraud campaign that has likely siphoned millions of dollars in unemployment payments earmarked for the record number of Americans seeking benefits as a result of the pandemic, a new Secret Service memo warns.
According to an internal memo, a group of Nigeria-based criminals have been filing phony unemployment claims in multiple states using a personally identifying information (PII), specifically stolen or compromised Social Security numbers. The information being used was most likely procured through various forms of identity theft and/or known data breaches and compromises.
“It is assumed the fraud ring behind this possesses a substantial PII database to submit the volume of applications observed thus far,” stated the memo.
The fraud campaign comes in the wake of a massive increase in unemployment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. State unemployment offices are vulnerable to this kind of fraud as they scramble to get funds to Americans in need as quickly as possible.
The Secret Service has identified Washington as the primary target of the fraud campaign, but has seen “evidence of attacks in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Florida,” according to the memo.
The post International Fraud Ring Stealing Unemployment Funds appeared first on Adam Levin.
As millions of people around the world practice social distancing and work their office jobs from home, video conferencing has quickly become the new norm. Whether you’re attending regular work meetings, partaking in a virtual happy hour with friends, or catching up with extended family across the globe, video conferencing is a convenient alternative to many of the activities we can no longer do in real life. But as the rapid adoption of video conferencing tools and apps occurs, is security falling by the wayside?
Avoid Virtual Party Crashers
One security vulnerability that has recently made headlines is the ability for uninvited attendees to bombard users’ virtual meetings. How? According to Forbes, many users have posted their meeting invite links on social media sites like Twitter. An attacker can simply click on one of these links and interrupt an important conference call or meeting with inappropriate content.
Ensure Data is in the Right Hands
Online conferencing tools allow users to hold virtual meetings and share files via chat. But according to Security Boulevard, communicating confidential business information quickly and privately can be challenging with these tools. For example, users are not always immediately available, even when working from home. In fact, many parents are simultaneously doubling as working parents and teachers with the recent closure of schools and childcare providers. If a user needs to share private information with a coworker but they are unable to connect by video or phone, they might revert to using a messaging platform that lacks end-to-end encryption, a feature that prevents third-party recipients from seeing private messages. This could lead to leaks or unintended sharing of confidential data, whether personal or corporate. What’s more, the lack of using a secure messaging platform could present a hacker with an opportunity to breach a victim’s data or device. Depending on the severity of this type of breach, a victim could be at risk of identity theft.
Pay Attention to Privacy Policies
With the recent surge of new video conferencing users, privacy policies have been placed under a microscope. According to WIRED, some online conferencing tools have had to update their policies to reflect the collection of user information and meeting content used for advertising or other marketing efforts. Another privacy concern was brought to light by a video conferencing tool’s attention-tracking feature. This alerts the virtual meeting host when an attendee hasn’t had the meeting window in their device foreground for 30 seconds, resulting in users feeling that their privacy has been compromised.
How to Secure Video Conferences
As users become accustomed to working from home, video conferencing tools will continue to become a necessary avenue for virtual communication. But how can users do so while putting their online security first? Follow these tips to help ensure that your virtual meetings are safeguarded:
Do your research
There are plenty of video conferencing tools available online. Before downloading the first one you see, do your research and check for possible security vulnerabilities around the tools. Does the video conferencing tool you’re considering use end-to-end encryption? This ensures that only meeting participants have the ability to decrypt secure meeting content. Additionally, be sure to read the privacy policies listed by the video conferencing programs to find the one that is the most secure and fits your needs.
Make your meetings password protected
To ensure that only invited attendees can access your meeting, make sure they are password protected. For maximum safety, activate passwords for new meetings, instant meetings, personal meetings, and people joining by phone.
Block users from taking control of the screen
To keep users (either welcome or unwelcome) from taking control of your screen while you’re video conferencing, select the option to block everyone except the host (you) from screen sharing.
Turn on automatic updates
By turning on automatic updates, you are guaranteed to have all the latest security patches and enhancements for your video conferencing tool as soon as they become available.
Do you find yourself working from home these days? Kids off school too? Then your daily life is set to change super-fast. Yes, there is so much to organise to implement this essential ‘social distancing’ strategy. But in the flurry to get everyone set up, it’s essential that we don’t cut corners, make rash decisions so we can ensure both our headspace and online safety aren’t at risk.
The New Era of Social-Distancing
Many workplaces have already instructed their staff to ‘social distance’ and work from home so we can ‘flatten the curve’ while others are probably not far away from making this decision. Many Australian states have given parents the option to keep their children at home. So, even if you (and the kids) are not yet home, it’s wise to start thinking about how our work (and learn) from home lives might look while we are ‘social-distancing’ and, how can keep our households safe when online. Here’s a few things to consider:
Breath. These are Uncertain Times
It’s completely normal to feel anxious and stressed in this time of great uncertainty. While we are hopeful that ‘social distancing’ measures will help minimise the impact of the virus, the truth is – we just don’t really know what the upcoming months will look like. Acknowledging that you (and all your family members) will be feeling anxious and ‘out of sorts’ at the moment is essential. Cutting family members some slack, particularly if you are all ‘cooped up’ together will definitely make for a smoother self-isolation experience!
Always Think Critically & Don’t Overload on News
When we are feeling panicked and stressed, it’s easy for our rational brains to stop functioning. Social media feeds have been full of ‘miracle cures’ for COVID-19 which have been of great interest to many stressed out peeps. PLEASE avoid clicking links and ‘buying into’ this. Not only could these be links to malicious websites designed to extract your private information, but these themes just feed our anxiety. Instead, seek out advice from reputable medical institutions and authorities. Being a critical thinker online is more important now more than ever.
And if the constant barrage of news about the pandemic is affecting your (and your family’s) mood and outlook then take a break from it. Maybe limit yourself to checking for updates once per day as opposed to having constant updates come through on your phone. It’s super easy to disable news notifications, if you are Apple user, here’s what you need to do and, if you are an Android user, these tips may help.
Ensure You Are Using the Correct Platforms & Software
Before you start downloading programs you think are helpful, check with your workplace or employer about their preferred platforms. It’s highly likely you will have most of the programs they require whether it’s Facetime, Slack, Zoom or Trello. But if you don’t, please ensure you download apps from a reputable source such as the AppStore or Google Play or a site that has been approved by your employer. Third party app sites are to be avoided at all costs because the chances are, you’ll score yourself some malicious software!
Protect Yourself & Your Data
Please check whether you employer has security software and a Virtual Private Network (VPN) installed on your devices. If not, or you are using your ‘home’ devices to undertake company work, then ensuring that both your stored data and the data you share over the internet is protected is essential.
Using a device without security software is a little like leaving your front door open – you are essentially inviting anyone to enter. So, investing in a comprehensive security software solution that protects you from dodgy downloads, visiting fake websites, malicious software and viruses is a no brainer! A VPN will also protect the data that you share from your devices by effectively creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the router – the ultimate way of keeping the cybercrimals out!
Back-Up Your Data
Check with your employer to ensure that all your data will be backed up, even when working from home. If they can’t guarantee your work will be backed up then you need to find yourself a reliable, safe option. I am a Dropbox fan but Google Drive is also a great tool. But if you need something a little more robust then check out IDrive or IBackUp.
And don’t forget about the kids! If your offspring are remote schooling, ensure all their hard work is backed up too. Google Drive or Dropbox is a great solution for students.
Manage Your Internet Usage at Home
If your household has two adults working from home plus a tribe of kids remote schooling, then chances are your internet may slow. With more than 90% of Aussies now accessing the internet through the NBN, many are worried that the spike in demand may create havoc. While the folks from NBN keep assuring us that it’s all going to be fine, we may need to find ourselves staggering our internet use. Why not encourage your kids to do offline activities such as reading or craft while you have some designated time for emails or an online meeting? And don’t forget, you can always create a hotspot from your mobile for another internet source.
Invest in Your Back & Neck – Splash Out on Some Gadgets
Setting up a designated workspace at home is critical to providing some structure in this new phase of your work life. Why not use this as an excuse to get properly setup?
I’ve worked from home for many years but could not have done so without my large monitor and my stand-up desk. Like many peeps, I have a dodgy neck so my stand-up desk and large monitor have meant that I can continue to work with no pain! I simply plug my laptop into my monitor and happy days – everything in enlarged and at eye height! On the days that I decide to work from my kitchen benchtop, my neck always starts to throb – you’d think I’d learn!
And don’t think you need to spend a fortune. A large monitor can cost as little as $200 and a stand-up desk not much more. If you are using these items for work, the chances are you’ll be able to claim these purchases as a tax deduction – why not talk to your accountant?
There is no doubt that 2020 will be ‘the year we will remember for the rest of our lives’. And while the bulk of us aren’t in the high-risk category, it is essential that we all do our bit so that we can protect our most vulnerable. So, please take the time to ensure you are cybersafe while setting up your new work (and school) from home life and even more importantly, keep washing your hands!!
Till Next Time
Everyone’s talking about the TikTok app. In addition to talking, tweens and teens are swiping, laughing, and sharing TikTok videos. Meanwhile, parents are concerned with one thing: Is TikTok safe?
What is TikTok?
Based out of China, TikTok is a video-based social networking app that replaced the Musical.ly app, which ended its digital run in 2017. The app allows users to create an account, make and post short 15-60-second videos, as well as view, comment on, and share videos from other users. According to reports, TikTok has 1 billion active users in 155 countries. Approximately 60 percent of TikTok’s audience is between 16 and 24. Guidelines state that anyone 12+ can use the app, though there’s no age-verification process.
Why Do Kids Love TikTok?
TikTok is the latest and greatest digital hangout that has become the main channel for kids to discover new and creative ways to express themselves. They can follow their interests, be entertained, and be rewarded with views, likes, and shares for their artistic efforts. Tik Tok has built-in editing tools, free music, and dialogue clips, and filters that make creating videos easy for any skill level. Users can share funny sketches, lip-sync videos, and spontaneous, personal raves or rants. According to app reviews posted by teens, TikTok is also a go-to creative outlet, a place to de-stress, and a confidence-builder.
What are the risks?
Apps aren’t inherently risky. Rather, it’s the way individuals use an app that puts themselves or others at risk. That’s why understanding how your kids engage on TikTok, and how to make the experience as safe as possible, is important. Here are some of the risks your child could encounter on TikTok:
Contact from strangers. According to news reports, predators use TikTok to connect with kids. Anyone who follows a TikTok user can privately message them and initiate private conversations outside of the app.
Exposure to mature content and lyrics. Apps attract users of all ages, which means if your child has a TikTok account, he or she has access to the public video feed. With 1 billion users, your child will likely see videos containing sexually suggestive or explicit images and hear explicit lyrics (we saw and heard plenty). They may even unknowingly use music clips for their videos that contain explicit lyrics.
Spam and malware. Recent reports reveal software flaws that could potentially open up TikTok accounts to a range of malicious attacks. Researchers say hackers could have exploited the flaws to send legitimate-looking text messages loaded with malware, made private videos public, and accessed personal data.
Excessive screentime. TikTok is a curiosity magnet for kids, which can lead to excessive screen time, lack of sleep, and a host of other negative outcomes from too much time online.
Cyberbullying. TikTok users have been known to create “cringe compilations,” which are videos they deem to be odd, uncool, or cringe-worthy. Several of these cruel compilations have been posted outside of TikTok and have gone viral.
Quest for likes. As with any social network, some users can become preoccupied with amassing views, likes, and followers. This obsession can lead to bad decisions, risky behavior (such as challenges), cyberbullying, and sharing harmful content.
Oversharing. Some kids share their daily activities through TikTok videos and inadvertently expose personal information such as their school, their location, home address, and other personal data.
10 Family Safety Tips
Should you allow your child to use TikTok? The answer to that question depends on a few things, including the age of the child using the app and how they use it. Here are a few tips that may help in that decision.
- Download the app. The best way to understand TikTok is to download it, create an account, and explore. Take some solo time to search a few hashtags, scroll some feeds, and get a feel for the content. Visit the app’s safety center for an overview of safety tools. Visit the privacy center to see how your child’s data is being used.
- Go through the app together. Sit and browse content with your child. Discuss the pros and cons of the content and how it does or doesn’t align with your family’s digital ground rules.
- Max privacy settings. By making a TikTok account private, only approved followers (known friends) can view your child’s videos or send your child messages. When an account is public, anyone can comment, send messages, or share your child’s videos.
- Explore restricted mode. TikTok has a Restricted Mode for minors that will allow you to filter out inappropriate content.
- Explore Family Safety Mode. This TikTok feature allows a parent to link their TikTok account to their child’s to manage screen time, direct messages, set restrictions, and control friend and comment filters.
- Control interactions. Users can disable comments on a specific video, block people they don’t know from following them, and report abuse.
- Monitor social circles. Kids can change privacy settings and eventually be wooed into making more connections and getting more exposure. Consider monitoring who your child follows and who is following them. Consider the TikTok influencers they follow and the type of content they share.
- Monitor screen time. It’s easy to burn through countless hours on TikTok. The app has a digital wellbeing element that alerts users every two hours. Consider filtering software that adds another way to set screen limits.
- Talk about being an upstander. Creating and sharing original content online takes courage — and attracts bullies, making TikTok a potentially unsafe environment for kids. Encourage your child to be an upstander online and offer encouragement and support to peers when needed.
- Block the app. If you determine TikTok’s content isn’t a good fit for your family or that the risks outweigh the opportunities, both Android and iOS have built-in parental controls in Settings that allow you to block any app (consider rechecking these settings weekly).
One look at today’s headlines, and it’s tempting for a parent to want to delete every app like TikTok. Only we know a similar app will soon surface. Another approach is to jump into the digital mix. Know what apps your kids love and why. Understand how they use their favorite apps and who they are talking to. And, always remember: It’s never too early or too late to start these critical conversations with your kids. You’ve got this, parents!
Digital news that affects families seems to be dominating the headlines these days. To keep parents in the know, here are some of the stories you may want to give extra family discussion time to this week.
Skull Breaker Challenge Proving Unfunny
Apps — video apps especially — can help kids tap into their creativity and give kids a critical way to connect. Where the fun can take a dangerous turn is in the way kids choose to use their technology. In this case, the poor choice is in the Skull Breaker Challenge (also called the Trip Jump Challenge), a prank resulting in some kids being hospitalized.
The prank, designed to get laughs and accumulate TikTok views, includes two kids tricking a third friend into making a dance video together. Three kids line up side by side for a planned group dance that will be videotaped and posted. As everyone jumps as planned, the two kids on either side swipe the legs out from under the middle person causing him or her to fall backward. According to reports, the prank is surfacing mainly on TikTok but also Youtube.
Safe Family Tip: Consider talking to your child about the dangers of online challenges and the risks already reported in the news. 1) Discuss the physical dangers doctors are warning the public about, including neck strain, concussion, skull fracture, long-term complications, or even death. 2) Using current news stories, explain personal responsibility and what can happen legally if your child hurts another person during a prank.
Snapchat’s Hoop App Being Called ‘Tinder for Teens’
Snapchat users (over 2.5 million in fact) are flocking to a new Tinder-like app called Hoop that interfaces with Snapchat. The developer app allows other Hoop users to swipe through other Hoop users and request to connect via their Snapchat profile name.
While the app asks a user’s age, much like other social sites, there’s no way to prove a user’s age. And, users can change their age at any time after creating an account. This type of app format can be tempting for kids who are naturally curious and seeking to meet new friends outside of their familiar social circle. There’s a potential for common issues such as catfishing, predator behavior, and inappropriate content. Kids as young as 12 can form connections with strangers. While their profile may be harmless, they can’t control the type of content that pops up on their screen from other users. Another red flag: Hoop users are rewarded with “diamonds” for sharing their Snapchat name and getting others to join Hoop, so the incentive to daily share and connect with a wide circle outside of one’s known friend group may prove tough for some kids to resist.
Safe Family Tip: While it’s challenging to stay on top of the constant array of new apps, it’s not impossible. One way to understand where your child spends his or her time online is with comprehensive monitoring software. Another way of monitoring activity is to physically check your child’s phone once a week for new app icons (see right) and take the time to talk about his or her favorite apps. Consider explaining the dangers of connecting with strangers and the real possibility that a new “cute 16-year-old” may be a predator attempting to win your child’s trust (it happens every day). Review and agree on which apps are considered safe and the expectations you have for your family’s online choices.
Another app to keep on your radar is Wink. Nearly identical to Hoop, Wink interfaces with Snapchat and is being promoted as a “new friend finder.” It has a similar “swipe” feature that connects kids to random Wink users and is currently ranked #15 in the app store.
Should phones be banned from schools?
A conversation gaining a quiet but consistent buzz is the merit of prohibiting phones from schools — a law France has enforced for two years that has parents, educators, and legislators talking. Several recent studies reveal that phone bans can lead to higher test scores, higher test grades and attention spans, and increased cognitive capacity. Some schools in the U.S. have independently taken steps to curb and ban phones in hopes of focusing on distracted students.
Proponents of phones in school say a ban would be impossible to enforce and that technology is needed to help parents stay in touch with kids during the school day, especially for emergencies. Others say phones at school are a critical part of learning and raising self-sufficient, tech-savvy students prepared for a digital workforce.
Safe Family Tip: Begin the discussion with your child about the pros and cons of devices at school. Listen closely to his or her perspective. Discuss potential device-related issues that can be amplified during the school day such as cyberbullying, group chat conflicts, sexting, gaming during class, and using devices to cheat. Review expectations such as using phones only before and after school to connect with parents.
Stay tuned in the weeks to come as we take a closer look at other apps such as TikTok and WhatsApp Messenger that — when used unwisely — can lead to some surprising risks for kids. Until then, keep the digital safety conversation humming in your home. You’ve got this, parents!
The post TikTok Challenge, Hoop App, and Other Headlines You May Have Missed appeared first on McAfee Blogs.
Valentine’s Day is such a double-edged sword. If you’re feeling the love and just can’t get enough of your sweetheart – then I wish you a wonderful day. If, on the other hand, you are unattached and feeling a little lonely then chances are you’re thinking about trying your luck on an online dating app.
Every year, traffic to dating apps surges around Valentine’s Day because let’s be honest – who wants to be lonely? But it’s not just adults who frequent dating sites to find their perfect match – teens do too!
Dating Apps – Proceed with Caution!!!
The increasing popularity of these sites means that scammers are spending considerable time and energy targeting people to con. And don’t forget that many teens are on these sites too – even as young as 16! You don’t have to look far to find stories of people who have been tricked into transferring large sums of money to their ‘online lovers’. And in more recent years, romance scammers are now tricking new partners into illegally relaying stolen funds!
Romance Scammers Now Searching for New ‘Online Love’ in Games
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), romance scammers are now also targeting non-dating apps to look for new vulnerable ‘online lovers’. In fact, 38 Aussies lost almost $600,000 through gaming app Words with Friends, an online version of Scrabble. Most of the losses were through direct bank transfers however iTunes, Steam and Google Play gift cards were also commonly used. Games such as Words with Friends are very popular with both tweens and teens, so please share these stores with them.
How to Stay Safe While Searching for Love Online
I have several friends who have found the ‘love of their lives’ online so please remember that not everyone you meet online is a scammer. However, it is essential that you are ALWAYS on guard and cautiously suspicious until such time as your new online love has proven themselves. Here are my top tips for staying safe:
Limit how personal you get
Scammers today prey on the human need to feel connected to one and other. The key is to be always careful with the information that you share online. Whether it’s Tinder, OkCupid, Bumble, or even Facebook or Instagram, only share what is absolutely necessary. Your personal information can easily be pieced together by a scammer to access your personal information, your bank accounts or even steal your identity. Start with being clever with your profile names on dating sites and apps – never give out your full name.
Do your homework
If you’ve met someone online, always do your homework before meeting them in person. Why not get Google working for you? A Google search is a great place to start and even using Google Images will help you get a better understanding of a person. And don’t forget to check out their LinkedIn account too. Another option would be to track down mutual friends and ask questions about your new online partner.
Think before you send
Sharing intimate pictures or videos with the person you’re dating online may be a good idea right now but please take a moment before pressing send to think about how this could come back to haunt you in the future. Remember, once those pictures and videos are online, they are online forever. Even social media apps with disappearing images, such as Snapchat, can be easily circumvented with a screenshot. It’s not just celebrities who have intimate pictures spread around the Internet!
Make passwords a priority
Ensure all your online dating and social media accounts, and all your devices, have separate and unique passwords. Ideally, each password should have a combination of lower and upper case letters, numbers and special characters. I love using a nonsensical, crazy sentence!
And please remember to share your online romance vigilance with your budding teen Romeos and Juliets. It is incredibly common for teens to use dating sites to find someone special. Even though it may be a tad awkward and uncomfortable, as parents we need to do all we can to keep our offspring safe – particularly when their hormones are raging!!
Till Next Time!!
Happy Valentine’s Day!!
The post How You (and Your Teen) Can Stay Safe While Looking for Love Online appeared first on McAfee Blogs.
It’s time to get those W-2 and 1099 tax forms ready. On January 27th, the IRS began accepting paper and electronic tax returns ahead of the April 15th due date. But as users prepare to file, scammers prepare to take advantage of innocent taxpayers with malicious tactics, looking to harvest the extensive amounts of personal data found in IRS tax documents. Let’s take a look at common tactics hackers may leverage this tax season.
A commonly used tactic involves hackers posing as collectors from the IRS, as tax preparers, or government bureaus. This tactic is pretty effective due to Americans’ concerns of misfiling their taxes or accidentally running into trouble with the IRS. Scammers take advantage of this fear, manipulating innocent users into providing sensitive information or money over the phone or by email. And in extreme cases, hackers may be able to infect computers with malware via malicious links or attachments sent through IRS email scams.
Another tactic used to take advantage of taxpayers is the canceled social security number scam. Hackers use robocalls claiming that law enforcement will suspend or cancel the victim’s Social Security number in response to taxes owed. Often, victims are scared into calling the fraudulent numbers back and persuaded into transferring assets to accounts that the scammer controls. Users need to remember that the IRS will only contact taxpayers through snail-mail or in-person, not over the phone.
Another scam criminals use involves emails impersonating the IRS. Victims receive a phishing email claiming to be from the IRS, reminding them to file their taxes or offering them information about their tax refund via malicious links. If a victim clicks on the link, they will be redirected to a spoofed site that collects the victim’s personal data, facilitating identity theft. What’s more, a victim’s computer can become infected with malware if they click on a link with malicious code, allowing fraudsters to steal more data.
Scammers also take advantage of the fact that many users seek out the help of a tax preparer or CPA during this time. These criminals will often pose as professionals, accepting money to complete a user’s taxes but won’t sign the return. This makes it look like the user completed the return themselves. However, these ghost tax preparers often lie on the return to make the user qualify for credits they haven’t earned or apply changes that will get them in trouble with. Since the scammers don’t sign, the victim will then be responsible for any errors. This could lead to the user having to repay money owed, or potentially lead to an audit.
While these types of scams can occur at any time of the year, they are especially prevalent leading up to the April tax filing due date. Consumers need to be on their toes during tax season to protect their personal information and keep their finances secure. To avoid being spoofed by scammers and identity thieves, follow these tips:
- File before a scammer does it for you. The easiest defense you can take against tax season schemes is to get your hands on your W-2 and file as soon as possible. The more prompt you are to file, the less likely your data will be raked in by a fraudster.
- Obtain a copy of your credit report. You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the major bureaus once a year. So, make it a habit to request a copy of your file every few months and check for any suspicious activity.
- Beware of phishing attempts. Phishing is a common tactic crooks leverage during tax season, so stay vigilant around your inbox. This means if any unfamiliar or remotely suspicious emails come through requesting tax data, double-check their legitimacy. Be wary of strange file attachment names such as “virus-for-you.doc.” Remember: the IRS only contacts people by snail mail, so if you get an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, stay away.
- Watch out for spoofed websites. Scammers have extremely sophisticated tools that help disguise phony web addresses for DIY tax software, such as stolen company logos and site designs. To avoid falling for this, go directly to the source. Type the address of a website directly into the address bar of your browser instead of following a link from an email or internet search. If you receive any suspicious links in your email, investigating the domain is usually a good way to tell if the source is legitimate or not.
- Consider an identity theft protection solution. If your data does become compromised, be sure to use an identity theft solution such as McAfee Identity Theft Protection, which allows users to take a proactive approach to protect their identities with personal and financial monitoring and recovery tools to help keep their identities personal and secured.
What Can You Do To Make The Internet a Better Place
In 2020, you’d be hard-pressed to find an Aussie teen who doesn’t spend a fair whack of their time online. And while many of us parents don’t always love the time our offspring spend glued to screens, most of us have come to accept that the online world is a big part of our kids’ lives.
So, let’s accept that the internet is going to be a feature of our kids’ lives and work out how best we can keep them safe.
Together For A Better Internet
Today is Safer Internet Day – an international annual event that encourages us all to work together for a better internet. The perfect opportunity to find out what we can do as parents to ensure our kids are as safe as possible online.
Organised by the joint Insafe/INHOPE network, with the support of the European Commission, Safer Internet Day is held each February to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology, especially among children and young people. Safer Internet Day is all about inspiring users to make positive changes online, to raise awareness of online safety issues, and participate in events and activities right across the globe.
What Can We Do As Parents?
As role models and life-educators, parents play an enormous role in shaping our kids’ behaviours and opinions – particularly before they get to the teenage years!! So, why not use Safer Internet Day as a prompt to freshen up your cybersafety chats with your brood.
Not sure where to start? Here are my top messages to weave into your chats with your kids
Be Kind Online
Spread love not hate online. A better internet includes building an online culture where people share positive and encouraging posts and comments. It may be as simple as posting a positive message, liking a post that is encouraging or sharing an inspiring article. Image
It may sound obvious but before you post a comment or a tweet, ask yourself whether the message could offend someone or impact them negatively. And remember to NEVER like, favourite, retweet, post or comment negatively online.
Learn How To Disagree Respectfully Online
No matter how much we try, there will always be some people online who get a kick out of being unkind. If you come across this behaviour, I encourage you to call it out and report it but ALWAYS do so in a respectful fashion. Reciprocating with harsh words or name-calling will only further inflame a toxic situation. A logical, factual response that is respectful will always triumph!
Protecting Your Online Reputation (& Others Too)
If you’re planning on hiring someone or even going on a date with someone, the chances are you’re going to ‘Google’ them first. And what you find online and the opinion you form decides whether the person’s digital reputation is acceptable or not.
So, it’s essential to remember that everything you post online is permanent and public; not to post inappropriate comments or pics of yourself or others; ensure all your online profiles are set to private to avoid strangers ‘screen-grabbing’ your private info and photos; don’t respond to inappropriate requests and most importantly, take a breather when things are getting heated online and you may regret your comments and actions.
Managing passwords is one of the best ways of taking control of your online life and creating a better internet. Ensuring you have a separate password for every online account means that if you are affected by a data breach, your other online accounts are not at risk. Always choose passwords that have letters, numbers and symbols and ensure they are complex and not obvious. I love using a nonsensical sentence! And if all that’s too hard, why not consider a password manager that not only creates complex passwords for each of your online accounts but remembers them too. All you need to do is remember the master password! Awesome!!
So, why not pledge to change up your cybersafety chats with your kids this Safer Internet Day? And remember – they are watching you too! So, ensure you always model online respect, take your online responsibilities seriously and, also manage your passwords carefully. Because every little step is a step towards a positive change.