Identity thieves are very active during the holidays and tax season. There are more opportunities to steal information from consumers. If you fall victim to identity theft, cybercriminals could cause significant damage to your finances. It is important to remain vigilant of identity theft during this time of year. You may reduce the chances of identity theft with these five tips, most of which came from the IRS.
- Beware of phishing scams: A phishing scam is where identity thieves try to trick you into giving up personal information. Cyber criminals posing as banks, friends, coworkers, retailers or government agencies may ask for your information through emails, text messages or phone calls. Phishing emails may try to trick you into opening attachments or links that install malware on your computer. The IRS warns against providing personal information unless you are the one who has initiated contact.
- Avoid using unsecured internet connections: According to the IRS, you should avoid conducting financial transactions on unsecure internet connections. Unsecure networks, such as the public WiFi you might find at a local coffee shop, may not conceal your online activities. Users who are logged into that network might be able to see your personal information. You should also ensure that your antivirus software is up-to-date and that your computer is free of malware.
- Secure your personal information: According to the IRS, you should add password protection or even encryption to devices that contain sensitive personal data. In addition, the IRS warns against using repeat passwords for various financial or tax accounts. Passwords should be 12 or more characters that contain uppercase letters, lowercase letters, special characters and numbers. Finally, the IRS recommends using a two-step authentication process for passwords. This is where a security code that is required to log in is sent to your mobile device.
- Use secure websites: Stick to familiar websites that have valid security certificates. Websites with a lock symbol or https next the URL encrypt transmitted data. It is risky to transmit personal or financial information through unsecure websites. The IRS has also warned consumers to beware of unfamiliar or popup websites while making purchases.
- Keep a close eye on your finances: You can pull your credit reports from Equifax, TransUnion and Experian once per year. Credit reports may show signs of identity theft, such as accounts you do not recognize. Gas pumps, restaurants, retailers and ATMs may also have skimming devices that can steal your debit and credit card information. Some businesses are not yet compliant with the new EMV chip card readers. You should get into the habit of regularly checking accounts that are linked to your debit and credit cards.
Has Online Identity Theft Become More Common?
As you can probably tell from reading this blog, identity thieves are more likely to target you online than in person. You should practice safe network security habits at all times. However, the holidays and tax season requires extra vigilance. Even websites that help you file your tax returns have been hacked by cybercriminals. Be extremely cautious when selecting and entering your personal information into any website.