Online Shopping

Summer is around the corner and whether you are shopping online to get ready for a vacation or relaxing while on vacation and decide to indulge, BE AWARE!  Your financial information, tax information and Social Security number could be at risk. 

Cybercriminals want to turn stolen data into quick cash. They do this by draining financial accounts, charging credit cards, creating new credit accounts or even using stolen identities to file a fraudulent tax return for a refund.

Here are seven steps for taxpayers the IRS has provided, which can be followed to help protect their accounts and their money:

  • Avoid unprotected Wi-Fi. Unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspots may allow thieves to view transactions.  Think about hotel rooms, free Wi-Fi in restaurants and other public places.
  • Shop at familiar online retailers. Generally, sites using the “s” designation in “https” at the start of the URL are secure. User can also look for the “lock” icon in the browser’s URL bar. That said, some thieves can get a security certificate, so the “s” may not always vouch for the site’s legitimacy. Beware of purchases at unfamiliar sites or clicks on links from pop-up ads.
  • Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails. Thieves send these emails, posing as a trusted source, such a financial institution or the IRS. The criminal’s goal is to entice users to open a link or attachment. The link may take users to a fake website that will steal usernames and passwords. An attachment may download malware that tracks keystrokes.
  • Keep a clean machine. This applies to computers, phones and tablets. Taxpayers should use security software to protect against malware that may steal data and viruses that may damage files.
  • Use passwords that are strong, long and unique. Experts suggest a minimum of 10 characters but longer is better. People should also avoid using a specific word in the password. They should also use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters.
  • Use multi-factor authentication when available. This means users may need a security code, usually sent as a text from a financial institution or email provider to a mobile phone. People use this code in addition to usernames and passwords.
  • Encrypt and password-protect sensitive data. If keeping financial records, tax returns or any personally identifiable information on computers, this data should be encrypted and protected by a strong password.

Be a savvy shopper – not only by looking for deals on items you want to purchase but also by keeping your information secure. 

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Kay Sowa

About the Author

Kay Sowa is a paralegal in the Trusts and Estates Group at Capehart & Scatchard, P.A. She is an IRS Enrolled Agent, an Accredited Estate Planner® as well as a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. She oversees the trust and estate administration practice for the firm. She is an accomplished author and lecturer who has frequently spoken on behalf of a number of organizations including the National Business Institute and the Institute of Paralegal Education.

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