One of the most crucial times of accounting, tax season not only keeps the accountants busy but the common people too. While taxpayers keep no stone unturned in ensuring proper filing of their state and federal taxes, cybercriminals are equally keeping themselves engaged in devising strategies for stealing the taxpayers’ personal information, money, and identity.
Ranging from fake IRS calls to spear-phishing emails, cybercriminals are continuously evolving new ways to submit fraudulent returns, collect refunds, and often steal identities. Irrespective of the type of taxpayer you are, it’s crucial that you have the appropriate strategy to create a tax season security plan.
Here, we’ll guide you with some of the most critical vulnerabilities that you should be aware of during the tax season. In addition, we’ll help you learn how to avert data breaches using technology. Read on!
Table of Contents
Some Common Vulnerabilities You Should Be Aware Of
1. Ransomware: This is one of the most common attacks on the rise today. Whether it’s a government body or a private firm, ransomware attacks are continuously increasing. Usually, ransomware encrypts data on its target and demands a ransom to restore access. It pushes phishing emails with links, that when clicked, infect systems. Irrespective of the tax software you use, encountering ransomware could be a nightmare both during tax seasons and in your day-to-day life.
2. Multiple types of Phishing: Most of you are likely familiar with what a phishing email looks like. Usually, these emails use generic salutations like “Dear Customer”, “Dear Account Holder”, etc. In most cases, such emails are filtered in your Spam folder. However, not all phishing emails can be filtered as these emails are a result of social engineering techniques being used by cybercriminals. Using such techniques, they mount personalized and effective phishing attacks on selective targets. Such types of phishing attacks are termed spear-phishing.
Although both sorts of afore-mentioned attacks might seem simple enough to tackle, there are specific and advanced-level methods for cybercriminals to breach your data and infrastructure. According to a report from CNBC, between the years 2013 and 2015, behemoths like Google and Facebook were duped out of $100 million. In most cases, such attacks try to scam businesses, accountancies, or individuals by promising lucrative offerings in favor of transferring money to the cybercriminal.
Both ransomware and phishing attacks take undue advantage of frail systems and human negligence. As a responsible taxpayer of the nation, you should be able to devise a tax season security plan that needs technology and proper training. This way, you can recognize the various attack techniques and combat them efficiently.
5 Effective Ways to Avoid Tax Season Threats
Now that you are aware of some of the most common threats of a tax season, read on to explore the effective ways by which you can combat them. Here’s a look:
1. Basics First
The COVID-19 pandemic has built remote work a mainstream. Besides, tax information is getting continuously dispersed. In most cases, individuals use the same device for personal and professional tasks. If you’re among such individuals, you should adhere to some of the good practices such as keeping your tax software program updated, ensuring a scheduled backup of important files, encrypting data on hard drives, using antivirus programs and firewalls, and working on a VPN while collaborating virtually. On top of these, you can keep a vigil on the below-mentioned activities which the IRS will never do:
- A call demanding quick payment of taxes owed without sending a bill
- Sending emails requesting personal or financial information
- Asking debit or credit card details over the email or phone
- Asking for payment of taxes without letting you question or verify the tax amount
- Compelling you to stick to a certain payment method like a credit card, to pay the taxes
- Threatening to call law enforcement to conduct legal proceedings for not paying
2. Use a PIN
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a US Government agency for the collection of taxes offers an identity protection PIN to all taxpayers. It helps you prevent scammers from filing tax returns using your Social Security Number (SSN). This is because the PIN enables the IRS to validate your identity while you’re filing the returns either electronically or physically. Only a validated taxpayer and the IRS will have access to the PIN.
3. Use Multifactor Authentication (MFA)
If you are filing taxes online, ensure that the tax service provider not only requires you to use account login credentials but also requires an MFA code. This will help you verify your identity in multiple steps using various methods. As such, the MFA provides you an excellent opportunity to strengthen data security as it restricts any unauthorized user to get illegitimate access to your personal information.
4. Use Security Software
Using antivirus programs is an excellent way of getting complete protection from Trojans, spyware, viruses, and adware. Besides, keeping the security software up to date is of epitome importance as the latest updates in the software can detect all the potential threats well in advance. As such, the moment a threat is detected, the security software will either quarantine it or delete it from your device.
5. Back-up Files
Although there are multiple ways by which you can eliminate the risk of encountering a tax scam, it is important to adhere to some ground rules. One such rule is backing up your important files. As a good practice, you should save all important files, including state and federal tax returns in external hard drives or cloud storage, especially during a tax season.
In addition to the above, if you are an accounting or tax enterprise, you may have security concerns during the tax season. This is because the risk of phishing attacks and data breaches during the season increases drastically. To avoid such instances, you can avail the services of a tax software hosting service provider. One of the most crucial tasks of a tax software hosting provider is to monitor your data and keep it secure. On top of it, they cover other critical sectors, including cyberattacks, internal data theft, accidental deletion of data, etc. In a nutshell, utilizing the services of a cloud tax software hosting service provider benefits you with the following:
- Encrypts your data during transfer and on-site
- You can access the tax software and its data only if you clear the MFA
- Ensure security in multiple forms, such as antimalware, antivirus, and intrusion detection and prevention
- Restricts and defines the accessibility of certain data files amongst users
Suggested Reading: Tax Software On Cloud Or Not This Tax Season?
Where to Report a Potential Tax Scam?
If you encounter or suspect a tax scam, you can report it to [email protected]. Alternatively, you can bring the incident to the Federal Trade Commission’s notice or report the scam to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Additionally, you can contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit (IPSU) at 1800 908 4490 and report the incident.
Tax season scams could be devastating for you or your business; however, there are ways by which you can avert any unforeseen incidents. IRS never contacts you by text messages or emails requesting financial or personal information. If they require, they will call or visit your doorstep for a face-to-face discussion. Sound knowledge about ransomware and phishing emails can certainly help you identify any potential scam.
To avoid attacks on your tax software or keep scams at bay, you can take certain preventive measures, including using a PIN provided by the IRS, using MFA for your taxation account, using an antivirus program, and backing up all your important files. In case you identify a tax scam, feel free to report the incident to the concerned authorities for appropriate proceedings.