Avoid scams, protect sensitive information during holiday shopping season

On Cyber Monday, the IRS and Security Summit partners kicked off the 7th National Tax Security Awareness Week with information for taxpayers and tax professionals on how to avoid scams and protect sensitive personal information. The Security Summit partnership between the IRS, state tax administrators and the tax software and tax professional community work to improve defenses and protect people from tax-related identity theft.

The holiday season presents a prime opportunity for identity thieves to try stealing personal financial information, which also could be used to potentially file fraudulent tax returns, according to the IRS. People can face risks if they’re shopping online and using publicly accessible Wi-Fi, and fictitious text scams with “smishing” schemes continue during this period.

“Smishing” campaigns target mobile phone users, and the scam messages often look like they’re coming from the IRS, offering lures like fake COVID relief, tax credits or help setting up an IRS online account. Recipients can report them to phishing@irs.gov.

Consumers are urged to take extra care while shopping online or viewing emails and texts, and reminded to stay safe while holiday shopping with the following considerations:

  • Shop at sites where the web address begins with “https” – the “s” is for secure communications and look for the “padlock” icon in the browser window.
  • Don’t shop on unsecured public Wi-Fi in places like a mall.
  • Keep security software for computers, tablets and mobile phones updated.
  • Protect the devices of family members, including young children, older adults as well as less technologically savvy users.
  • Make sure anti-virus software for computers has a feature to stop malware, and that there is a firewall enabled that can prevent intrusions.
  • Use strong and unique passwords for online accounts.
  • Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. It helps prevent thieves from easily hacking accounts.

The IRS also reminds consumers to never buy anything from online sellers that accept payment only by gift cards, money transfers through companies like Western Union or MoneyGram or cryptocurrency. Payments made that way are nearly impossible to trace and reverse, and scammers often tell people to use those payment methods so they can get money quickly, according to the IRS.

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