Protecting Yourself Against Tax Identity Theft

By | March 7th, 2017|Identity Protection|

CSIDEvery year, tax season gives way to a fresh wave of identity theft-related crimes that affect millions of Americans. In 2015, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission tracked a whopping 47% increase in identity theft complaints. Tax refund fraud was a major contributor to this spike, with FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez naming tax refund fraud as the “largest and fastest growing ID theft category” tracked by the commission.

Tax-related identity theft crimes involve thieves using stolen Social Security numbers to file tax returns and cash in on refunds. Tax identity theft victims usually discover the crime when their returns are rejected because scammers have already filed. It’s important to note that even those who are not required to file a return can also fall victim to return fraud. Similarly, even if you’re not owed a refund from the IRS, you are also at risk for these crimes.

Although the IRS reported that their public-private partnership crackdown efforts have helped prevent millions of dollars in fraudulent reports in 2016, there are steps that individuals should take to help reduce the likelihood of tax identity theft:

  • File early: The best way to avoid falling victim to tax identity fraud is filing your state and federal taxes as soon as filing season begins. This usually falls on the second or third week in January.
  • Watch out for tax documents in the mail: Usually, employers and banks will send hard copies of tax documents in the mail, noting “tax documents enclosed” on the envelope. This is an easy target for identity thieves, but can be avoided by having your mail delivered to a mailbox that locks, a P.O. box, or by simply checking your mail frequently.
  • Safeguard your Social Security number: Any vulnerability to your SSN can result in fraudulent tax crime. Some best practices for protecting your SSN are shredding documents that include the number, only sharing on secure documents when required, and keeping your Social Security card in a safe place. If you believe your SSN is at risk, there are monitoring services available that will alert you if a fraudulent name or address has used it.
  • Beware of phishing scams: The IRS saw a 400% increase in phishing and malware incidents in the 2016 tax season. These scams, conducted via email or telephone, are disguised as official communications from the IRS, tax software companies, and other tax companies. The scammers ask for personally identifiable information like SSNs. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media to request personal or financial information. If you encounter a phishing scam, report it to the IRS.
  • Request a free copy of your credit report annually: Consumers are legally entitled to a free copy of their credit report from each of the major bureaus every year, which include Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Proactively disputing unauthorized or suspicious activity is one way to get ahead of potential identity theft. The three national credit reporting companies created a central location for ordering credit reports, which you can do by visiting com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
  • Data breaches and your taxes: If you’ve fallen victim to a data breach where your SSN was compromised, it’s likely that this information could be used to file a fraudulent tax return. The FTC recommends that data breach victims notify one of the three major credit bureaus to place a free fraud alert on credit files. Another recommended step is a credit freeze, which prevents access to credit records. In some cases, the IRS may contact breach victims to inform them of tax-related identity theft or if an e-file tax return was rejected as a duplicate. In these instances, submit IRS Form 14039 (see below), and continue to file your tax return.

Victims of tax-related identity theft should respond immediately to notices from the IRS that indicate fraudulent tax activity. You can contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit to report fraud at 1-800-908-4490. It’s also worth filing a police report or an IRS ID Theft Affidavit Form 14039, along with proof of your identity like your Social Security card. Record the dates you made calls and keep any copies of letters you sent, along with all tax documents and IRS notices.

Proactivity is key when combating any instance of identity theft. If you’ve experienced tax identity theft and want to share any lessons learned, join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Safe Shopping Tips During the Holidays

By | December 9th, 2016|Identity Protection, Online Safety|

CSIDThe holiday season is a whirlwind of wintry weather, family and friends, and shopping – a lot of shopping. The National Retail Federation predicts retail sales in November and December will increase 3.6 percent, reaching $655.8 billion. Online shopping is expected to increase between seven and ten percent from last year to a staggering $117 billion.

Whether you’re battling the crowds or shopping from your smartphone, it’s important to protect your information.

When Shopping In Stores:

  • Before you leave for an afternoon of shopping, edit the contents of your purse and wallet. Only carry the cards and information you absolutely need. Not writing checks? Leave your checkbook at home. It’s important to note that you should avoid carrying your Social Security number with you year-round.
  • Protect your PIN when shopping by keeping a watchful eye on other shoppers, and covering the key pad.
  • Be aware of the information being collected (email, address, zip code, etc.) by retailers. Only share what is required, and feel comfortable asking how your information will be stored and used during future purchases.
  • Avoid sharing and accessing sensitive information over public Wi-Fi, including banking apps, social media, and online shopping. If there is no secured Wi-Fi network available, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) while you shop.
  • Stay alert to your surroundings, and keep a close eye on your belongings. Never leave your purse and wallet in a car unattended.

When Shopping Online:

  • Be familiar with your merchant and ensure you’re using reputable online sites. First and foremost, always look for the HTTPS and green padlock icon in the address bar. You should avoid entering your credit card number or financial information if you don’t see this.
  • Create unique, cryptic passwords for each online customer account. Avoid using the same password across multiple websites and apps.
  • Take the time to logout of all online shopping accounts when your transaction is complete.
  • Make sure your devices are up-to-date, and that the latest security software and operating systems are being used for your phones, tablets, and computers.
  • Keep an eye out for phishing scams, as these fraudulent email messages are intended to look like legitimate offers during the holiday season. Never click on links in emails from unknown senders, and be wary of “too good to be true” deals. When in doubt, visit the retailer’s website directly or call their customer service to ensure the deal or email is legitimate.

Whether you are shopping at home or in-person, it’s important to keep track of your payments. Save records of your online purchases and check your bank account daily during this high-activity time. If you notice an unauthorized purchase, contact your bank or credit card company immediately.

We hope your holiday shopping is a breeze this season! What are your safe shopping tips? Share your advice with us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

The Real Cost of Identity Theft

By | September 9th, 2016|Identity Protection|

CSIDUnfortunately, identity theft can happen to anyone and has far-reaching consequences for its victims. According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ)’s most recent study, 17.6 million people in the US experience some form of identity theft each year. This includes activities such as fraudulent credit card transactions or personal information being used to open unauthorized accounts.

The most obvious consequence that identity theft victims encounter is financial loss, which comes in two forms: direct and indirect. Direct financial loss refers to the amount of money stolen or misused by the identity theft offender. Indirect financial loss includes any outside costs associated with identity theft, like legal fees or overdraft charges. The DOJ’s study found that victims experienced a combined average loss of $1,343. In total, identity theft victims lost a whopping $15.4 billion in 2014.

Beyond money lost, identity theft can negatively impact credit scores. While credit card companies detect a majority of credit card fraud cases, the rest can go undetected for extended periods of time. A criminal’s delinquent payments, cash loans, or even foreclosures slowly manifest into weakened credit scores. Victims often only discover the problem when they are denied for a loan or credit card application. Last year, CSID found that these types of fraud take the longest time to resolve.

Identity theft doesn’t just impact victims financially; it also often takes a significant emotional toll. A survey from the Identity Theft Research Center found that 69 percent felt fear for their personal financial security, and 65 percent felt rage or anger. And, almost 40 percent reported some sleep disruption. These feelings increased over time when victims were unable to settle the issue on their own, according to the report, which can result in problem as work or school, and add stress to relationships with friends and family.

Thankfully, consumers are getting smarter about the best ways to protect their information, like using monitoring services or following security best practices. How are you protecting yourself against identity theft? Join the conversation and stay up to date on the latest identity theft news by following CSID on FacebookTwitter or LinkedIn.

Memorial Day Bargain or Scam? Tips for Secure Online Shopping

By | May 27th, 2016|Identity Protection, Malware and Scams|

CSIDNational holidays are a time to get together with family, enjoy some time off, and relax. Unfortunately, they’re also a gold mine for cyber criminals. With Memorial Day almost upon us, retailers are promoting their special offers for the holiday weekend. To keep your online shopping deals from turning into a hacker’s opportunity to steal, here are some security best practices to keep top-of-mind:

  • Update your devices. Any device you use for shopping should have the latest security software, operating systems, programs, and applications. Just as you update your computer, make sure to do the same for your tablet, smartphone, or any other device you use to make purchases. In addition, avoid shopping on any device while connected through public Wi-Fi or unsecured networks.
  • Know your merchant. When making online transactions, make sure you’re dealing with a reputable site and take a careful look at the website’s URL. A good indicator that the retailer is legitimate and has a secure payment portal is if your web browser’s address bar displays a closed, green padlock.
  • Be aware of phishing scams. Email phishing scams are always a threat, but be especially wary during peak shopping seasons. Be aware of any misspellings in communications and “too good to be true” deals from a retailer. When in doubt, just go to the site directly by typing in the URL to your browser. Make sure to delete any suspicious emails and mark them as “spam.”
  • Protect your personal and financial information. Be aware of the information that is being collected to complete your purchase. Only fill out what is required and understand the merchant’s privacy policy – know how your information will be stored and used for current and future purchases.
  • Keep track of payments. Keep records of your online transactions and monitor your bank and credit card statements to make sure there are no fraudulent purchases. Credit cards are often the best option for online purchases because if there is any suspicion of fraud, your creditor can investigate and remove the charge if it is indeed fraudulent.

For more online security tips, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Stay safe out there and have a great long weekend.

Keeping Kids Safe From Identity Theft

By | December 7th, 2015|Identity Protection|

Child ID TheftIt’s something you may not think about very often—your child’s personally identifiable information being used for identity theft. Most children’s Social Security number (SSN) and personal information remain unused until they turn 18, leaving years for identity thieves to cause serious damage.

It’s common for parents to use a child’s SSN for routine activities, like registering for school or in doctor’s offices. However, many parents don’t think about checking if their child has a line of credit associated with their SSN. The reality is that youths under the age of 18 are a staggering 51 times more likely to have their identities stolen than adults. Victims of child identity theft face many difficulties as a result, like complications applying for college, opening savings accounts, or obtaining credit cards.

Fortunately, there are a number of precautions to help protect both you and your children from identity theft.

Educate and Communicate
Kids are tethered to the Internet through games, apps, and devices. This increases their risk of sharing sensitive information. Take the time to teach your children the the do’s and don’ts of being online. Check out our guest blog post from Anne Livingston on tips to prevent child identity theft, and the 5 pieces of information kids should not share online.

Creating and maintaining this conversation will ideally open up a dialogue and allow your children to feel comfortable talking to you about other online topics, like the latest viral video or more serious issues like cyberbullying.

Check Your Child’s Credit Report
The Federal Trade Commission recommends proactively checking a youth’s credit report around their 16th birthday. Should a credit report with fraudulent charges exist, you’ll have time to correct any errors well before your child needs to rent an apartment or apply for a job or loan.

Stay Up to Date on the Latest Technology
Take advantage of an identity monitoring service that includes Child Protection. These services monitor your child’s SSN and personal information, and alert you to any suspicious activity.

Don’t stop there! Familiarize yourself with your children’s gadgets. Computers, tablets, gaming consoles, and other handheld devices can all collect personal information. A hot new game or app may be revealing more of your child’s personal information than you’d like.

Be Cautious
Ask questions anytime your child’s personal information is requested: what will it be used for, why is it needed and how will it be guarded? For instance, few organizations such as motor vehicle, tax and welfare departments have the right to require your SSN. Be cautious before giving out your child’s personal information, and your own.

By following these simple tips, you can play an active role in ensuring the security of your child’s identity. Stay tuned for more security tips and the latest in industry news by following us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Understanding the IoT Convenience/Security Tradeoff

By | October 8th, 2015|Identity Protection, Industry News|

IoTIf you’ve been to a music festival recently, you may have noticed something convenient about your wristband. Sure, it serves its main purpose of getting you into the event, but with recent technology, it now has the capability to do quite a bit more.

Take for instance Austin City Limits music festival, which took place last weekend and will run again this coming weekend here in Austin. Festival-goers have the opportunity to load their credit card information onto their wristband either online or via the mobile app to alleviate digging around in their bag or wallet in the middle of a busy crowd. Simply hold the chip in your wristband up to the POS reader on the vendor’s iPad and voila! You’ve paid for your drink, snack, or souvenir.

Sounds convenient, right? But consider this: As you exit the festival, there are people lined up, eager to buy your wristband from you. Sell it, and it won’t take much for the person to gain access to the personal information associated with the wristband and your credit card info. It would just be a matter of cracking your four-digit pin that you had set up when registering your wristband.

This is just one case to consider, which opens up a broader discussion around what we may be sacrificing from a security perspective in the era of wearables and the Internet of Things.

Wearables, particularly fitness bands, have taken off in the past few years. PwC recently reported that more than 20 percent of U.S. adults already own at least one wearable, and that there will be as many as 50 billion new connected devices by 2020. What users may not realize is that wearable tech creates a new opportunity for a massive quantity of private data to be collected – with or without the user’s knowledge.

Symantic threat researcher Candid Wueest recently shared with Wired that it’s not so much about the level of danger people put themselves in wearing wearable devices, but more about the fact that at this point, developers are not prioritizing security and privacy. From his research, Wueest found that some devices sent data to a staggering 14 IP addresses. During his demonstration at Black Hat, Wueest identified six Jawbone and Fitbit users in the audience, showing how easy it was to find users’ locations, and specific details down to the time they left or entered the room.

But is it the wearable itself that poses the actual security threat? Gary Davis of Intel has explained (and we agree), that the weakest link is actually a user’s mobile phone, not the wearable itself. Most wearables link to your mobile phone, which, in comparison to the wearable device, hosts an exponentially greater amount of data, making it an irresistible target for hackers.

Before you cancel your order on that new fancy fitness tracker, keep this in mind: There are a number of simple, common sense steps you can take in order to protect your data. Consider buying a wearable that comes equipped with remote-lock capabilities, so that you can lock or erase its data if it is stolen. Also, as always, use a password to protect your device, use biometric authentication whenever possible, and keep an eye on user reviews online.

Stay tuned to the blog for more cybersecurity news throughout National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter and Facebook, and be sure to check out our Tumblr for the latest industry news stories.

 

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