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Holiday shopping (and tax time) identity theft prevention tips

Phishing holiday season candy cane hook_irs

Holiday season is here. So are the accompanying scams.

True, con artists operate year-round. But they really ramp up their schemes during this time of giving.

Some try to trick people who are stretched a bit too thin into thinking there's free money out there … as long as they supply some personal and financial information.

Other scammers use the hook of holiday giving, especially for those who are less fortunate. Just send along your help to the fake emailer, they say, or even easier, just click on the link.

'Tis the phishing season: And some go for a combo con, like the one below I got from a sloppy phisher trying to impersonate MacKenzie Scott, one of the richest and most philanthropic people in the world.

Scam MacKenzie Scott pre-nee Bezos-cropped

I appreciate this fake, sloppy, lower k MacKenzie's confidence that I'd use the $1.85 million donation grant for my community and not just myself. I'd appreciate it even more if this crook and others would just stop.

I also really wish it went without saying, but too many people fall for outlandish criminal schemes like this one, especially during this supposed-to-be-festive season, so I will say it. Again. Don’t be an identity theft victim or a con artist's willing mark.

Shopping and tax time warnings: The Internal Revenue Service is sending the same message as the seventh annual National Tax Security Awareness Week nears.

The IRS and its Security Summit partners — which include state tax officials, tax software manufacturers, and the tax professional community — are spotlighting ways we can protect sensitive financial information against identity thieves as the holidays and the 2023 tax season get closer.

"Taxpayers and tax professionals need to remain vigilant for increasingly sophisticated scams that look to steal sensitive financial information," said IRS Acting Commissioner Doug O'Donnell. "The Security Summit effort focuses on highlighting simple steps that small businesses and people in all walks of life can take to protect their information, helping them avoid problems at tax time."

During the special scam prevention week, which runs Nov. 28 through Dec. 2, the IRS and Security Summit members will feature a series of educational materials to help protect individuals, businesses and tax professionals from identity theft. The effort will include special informational graphics, a social media effort on Twitter and Instagram (check out @IRSnews and #TaxSecurity), and the Nov. 29 webinar Deeper Dive Into Emerging Cyber Crimes and Crypto Tax Compliance.

If you don't want to wait until after Thanksgiving, here's a preview of some tax (and holiday shopping) season security steps.

Shop safely online: If you'll be electronically window shopping (or more) on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, make sure you take at least basic steps to protect your personal and financial information.

This includes —

  • Using security software for computers and mobile phones, and keeping it updated.
  • Enhancing mobile app security by requiring touch biometrics or face ID sign-on requirements.
  • Making sure your computer anti-virus software has a feature to stop malware.
  • Enabling your security software's firewall to prevent intrusions.
  • Selecting (or changing to) strong and unique passwords for all accounts.
  • Using multi-factor log-in authentication whenever possible.
  • Signing up for alerts from your credit and debit card issuers and bank account so you'll get quick notice of unusual or excessive usage.

The IRS video below highlights some easy steps you can take to protect your computer and smartphone.


Make sure sites also are safe: Now that you and your device are secure, you're ready to shop. But only click on secure websites, those with the "https" prefix in their web addresses, along with the padlock icon.

And make sure that the website is the real one. Even bad actors may obtain a security certificate, so the "https" may not vouch for a site's legitimacy. Use your common sense. Beware of purchases at unfamiliar sites. Don't click on links from pop-up ads.

Also, never shop on unsecured Wi-Fi in public places like coffee shops, malls, or restaurants. If you must order an item and you're not home or at a secure Wi-Fi location, use your cell provider's minutes to log on. A few minutes of paid service is a lot cheaper than a stolen identity, maxed out highjacked credit card, or emptied bank account.

Don't be tempted by deals: Staying alert and taking security steps definitely helps when we're proactively shopping. However, we're all also getting tons of special deals and offers in our email boxes and social media accounts.

Some of them may be legit. But it's also likely that many are scams. Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, texts, and fake websites, whether shopping for the perfect Christmas gift, or filing your taxes next year.

These unsolicited tactics, whether used to con you the holiday shopper or you the taxpayer, are not necessarily new. But they may be tweaked to give them a veneer of immediacy or urgency.

Scam communications, either via phone, email, or text, tend to pose as a trusted source, such as a financial institution or the IRS. In shopping situations, they offer you, their (fake) loyal customer, a special deal. Or they suggest a password is expiring or an account update is needed.

The criminal's goal is to lure users into opening a link or attachment. The link may take you to a fake website that will steal your usernames and passwords. An attachment may download malware that tracks keystrokes, putting your personal information at risk.

The bottom line is to be as careful about how you purchase anything as you were when you were deciding on the gift. That way you won't fall prey to any of these criminal schemes during your online holiday shopping in the coming weeks or at tax filing time next year.

You also might find these items of interest:

 

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