5 Online Security Tips to Help Protect Your Holidays
It's National Tax Security Awareness Week. For the next few days, the Internal Revenue Service will focus on ways to protect tax and financial data during this hectic holiday season.
The IRS and its Security Summit partners in state tax offices and the tax industry are focusing on issues that pose a threat to individuals and businesses. Additionally, these groups will offer steps we can take to protect ourselves and our businesses from cybercriminals.
Online crooks seek to turn stolen data into quick cash, either 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.
The following five steps can help you improve your online safety this holiday shopping season, as well as protect the tax returns you'll file and refunds you'll receive in 2018.
1) Shop securely: Buy from familiar online retailers. Beware purchases at unfamiliar sites or clicks on links from pop-up ads. Look for the "lock" icon in the browser's URL bar. Also note whether there is an "s" at the end of the http in the URL. Generally, sites using "https" at the start of the URL are secure.
2) Avoid unprotected Wi-Fi: Unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspots also may allow thieves to view transactions. Do not engage in online financial transactions if using unprotected public Wi-Fi.
3) Don't fall for phishing bait: Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails that pose a trusted source such as those from financial institutions or the IRS. These emails may suggest a password is expiring or an account update is needed. 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.
4) Stronger passwords: Experts suggest a minimum of 10 characters but longer is better. Avoid using a specific word; longer phrases are better. Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Be unique. Use a different password for each account. Use a password manager, if necessary.
5) Identity theft follow-up: Even if you take security steps, criminals might find a way into your financial and tax data. Recent hacks of Equifax and Uber were not revealed to potential victims for months and years.
Unfortunately, these type of security breaches are all too common, putting us at risk of identity theft through no fault of our own. That's why we should take added steps throughout the year to ensure we haven't become identity theft victims.
A key action is to request a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year. Check it to make sure there are no unfamiliar credit changes.
Nothing is guaranteed, and creative crooks are always finding new ways to get access to our financial and tax data. But by being aware of the possibility and taking some simple steps, we can at least make it harder for them.