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It’s that time of year — tax time. It’s also a great time to get up to speed on tax-related scams – so, we’re passing some valuable information on to you from the Federal Trade Commission, the federal agency entrusted with protecting your rights as a consumer.
Here are two ways tax scammers might target you:
Tax identity theft
This kind of identity theft happens when someone files a fake tax return using your personal information — like your Social Security number — to get a tax refund or a job. You find out about it when you get a letter from the IRS saying:
- more than one tax return was filed in your name, or
- IRS records show wages from an employer you don’t know
If you get a letter like this, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. You can find more about tax identity theft at ftc.gov/taxidtheft and irs.gov/identitytheft.
IRS imposter scams
This time scammers aren’t pretending to be you — they’re posing as the IRS. They call you up saying you owe taxes, and threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay right away. They might know all or part of your Social Security number, and they can rig caller ID to make it look like the call is coming from Washington, DC – when it could be coming from anywhere. Leaving you no time to think, they tell you to put the money on a prepaid debit card and tell them the card number right away.
The real IRS won’t ask you to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers, and won’t ask for a credit card number over the phone. When the IRS contacts people about unpaid taxes, they usually do it by mail.
If you have a question about your taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go to irs.gov. You can report IRS imposter scams to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or at 800-366-4484, and to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
It’s the time of year when retail companies are filling up your inboxes with ads for special deals on items and promotions. Whether you take advantage of those deals or not, you’re still at risk for being targeted by fraudsters.
Do you know what to do to protect yourself? Here’s a few debit card tips:
- Carry only the cards you need. They can’t be stolen or lost if they aren’t in your purse or pocket.
- Keep credit/debit cards close. Never leave your wallet or purse unattended.
- Never let your card out of your sight. Skimming devices, which record card information, can be hidden in a hand or under a counter.
- Don’t lend your card to a friend or family member. No matter how much you trust them, your card isn’t in your control if you don’t have it.
- Always check your receipts and look for unauthorized charges on your statement. If anything looks fishy, report it immediately.
- Make a list of card numbers, expiration dates, and the toll-free numbers of your financial institution. Keep this record in a safe place (not in your wallet, with your cards) so you have access to it in an emergency.
And a few more regarding online shopping:
- When shopping online, check to be sure the sites are reputable and secure. Look for web addresses with “https” in the address.
- Don’t shop online using public Wi-Fi. Hackers can easily gain access and steal your information.
- Don’t respond to emails asking for personal financial information, they are likely phishing emails designed to capture passwords, logins, credit card details etc.
And, finally, always – ALWAYS - report lost cards and suspected fraud right away!
Online sales are expected to be significant again this year.
How can you maximize your transaction security? If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t get blindsided by the lure of great discounts – the security of your information is what’s most important. If you aren’t prepared and cautious, you could become the next cyber crime victim, the cost of which could far exceed any savings you might have received from the retailer.
When purchasing online this holiday season – and all year long – keep these tips in mind to help minimize your risk:
- Secure your mobile device and computer. Be sure to keep the operating system and application software updated/patched on all of your computers and mobile devices. Be sure to check that your anti-virus/anti-spyware software is running and receiving automatic updates. Confirm that your firewall is enabled.
- Use passwords. It’s one of the simplest and most important steps to take in securing your devices, computers and accounts. If you need to create an account with the merchant, be sure to use a strong password. Always use more than ten characters, with numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters. Use a unique password for every unique site.
- Do not use public computers or public wireless for your online shopping. Public computers may contain malicious software that steals your credit card information when you place your order. Additionally, criminals may be intercepting traffic on public wireless networks to steal credit card numbers and other confidential information.
- Pay by credit card, not debit card. A safer way to shop on the Internet is to pay with a credit card rather than debit card. Debit cards do not have the same consumer protections as credit cards. Credit cards are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and may limit your liability if your information was used improperly. Check your statements regularly.
- Know your online shopping merchants. Limit your online shopping to merchants you know and trust. If you have questions about a merchant, check with the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission. Confirm the online seller’s physical address, where available, and phone number in case you have questions or problems.
- Look for “https” when making an online purchase. The “s” in “https” stands for “secure” and indicates that communication with the webpage is encrypted.
- Do not respond to pop-ups. When a window pops up promising you cash or gift cards for answering a question or taking a survey, close it by pressing Control + F4 for Windows and Command + W for Macs.
- Do not click on links or open attachments in emails from financial institutions/vendors. Be cautious about all emails you receive even those from legitimate organizations, including your favorite retailers. The emails could be spoofed and contain malware. Instead, contact the source directly.
- Do not auto-save your personal information. When purchasing online, you may be given the option to save your personal information online for future use. Consider if the convenience is really worth the risk. The convenience of not having to reenter the information is insignificant compared to the significant amount of time you’ll spend trying to repair the loss of your stolen personal information.
- Use common sense to avoid scams. Don’t ever give your financial information or personal information via email or text. Information on many current scams can be found on the website of the Internet Crime Complaint Center: http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.
- Join MS-ISAC’s Twitter Chat. Join the Center for Internet Security (@CISecurity) and Sophos (@Sophos_news) on Tuesday, November 25, 2014 at 2 p.m. EST/11 a.m. PST for a Twitter Chat with more tips for staying safe online this holiday season. Use #ChatCyberMon to join us!
What to do if you encounter problems with an online shopping site?
Contact the seller or the site operator directly to resolve any issues. You may also contact the following:
The Federal Trade Commission – http://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov
It’s almost the Hap-hap-happiest time of year, but that doesn’t mean we should be relaxed in protecting our accounts. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the busiest on-line shopping days. Here’s a few tips for watching out for the fraudsters:
- Too-good-to-be-true coupons: these are coupons that offer free phones or tablets on sites all over the Internet. Don’t fall for it. Make sure the offers are from a legitimate company.
- Watch out for alerts via email or text that you just received a package from FedEx, UPS or the US Mail, and then asks you for some personal information. Don’t enter anything. Think Before You Click!
- There is also a fake refund scam going on that could appear to come from Amazon, a hotel, or a retail chain. It claims there was a “wrong transaction” and wants you to “click for refund” but instead, your device will be infected with malware.
- Be super-wary of bulk email with BUY NOW offers or anything that looks slightly “off”.
If you think you might have been scammed, stay calm and call your credit card company or bank. Getting a new card might be a little inconvenient, but it’s a small price to pay for a little more safety.
Fraud is becoming more and more frequent and it’s no longer limited to online scams. Our fraud team works 24/7 to monitor and protect you from suspicious transactions. And, because we’re so careful, sometimes that can occasionally mean an inconvenience to you if you’ve swiped your card in a state other than the one you live in - and we don’t know you’re there.
Bottom line is… if you’re planning to be out-of-state for the holidays this year, make sure you let us know about those plans. Please, also keep your contact information up-to-date so our fraud team can reach you in a time of need.
Do you need to get us an update or let us know about your plans? Contact your local branch or our customer service representatives at 1-888-262-5456.
Fictitious correspondence, allegedly issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) regarding funds purportedly under the control of the OCC and possibly other government entities, is in circulation. Correspondence may be distributed via e-mail, fax, or postal mail.
Any document claiming that the OCC is involved in holding any funds for the benefit of any individual or entity is fraudulent. The OCC does not participate in the transfer of funds for, or on behalf of, individuals, business enterprises, or governmental entities.
The correspondence may indicate that funds are being held by a specific financial institution and that the recipient will be required to pay an “approval fee” before the Federal Reserve Wire Network will release the funds to the beneficiary.
Attached is a copy of the “Interim Stop Order” document. E-mails being sent in regard to this scam appear to be sent from officials at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the United States Department of Financial Institutions, but they are not. E-mail addresses utilized in the electronic correspondence may be from [email@example.com] or [firstname.lastname@example.org]. This material is being sent to consumers in an attempt to elicit funds from them and to gather personal information to be used in possible future identification theft.
Before responding in any manner to any proposal supposedly issued by the OCC that requests personal information or personal account information or that requires the payment of any fee in connection with the proposal, recipients should take steps to verify that the proposal is legitimate. At a minimum, the OCC recommends that consumers
- Contact the OCC directly to verify the legitimacy of the proposal (1) via e-mail at email@example.com; (2) by mail to the OCC’s Special Supervision Division, 400 7th St. SW, Suite 3E-218, MS 8E-12, Washington, DC 20219; (3) via fax to (571) 293-4925; or (4) by calling the Special Supervision Division at (202) 649-6450.
- Contact state or local law enforcement.
- File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov if the proposal appears to be fraudulent and was received via e-mail or the Internet.
- File a complaint with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by telephone at (888) 877-7644; by mail at U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Office of Inspector General, Operations Support Group, 222 S. Riverside Plaza, Suite 1250, Chicago, IL 60606-6100; or via the online complaint form at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/forms/MailFraudComplaint.aspx, if the proposal appears to be fraudulent and was delivered through the U.S. Postal Service.
Any information regarding the subject of this or any other alert that you wish to bring to the attention of the OCC may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information please visit http://www.occ.gov/news-issuances/alerts/2014/alert-2014-33.html
The internet is a powerful resource that many Americans have come to depend on for everyday activities like shopping, banking, and connecting with friends. Yet, for all the internet’s advantages, it can also make users vulnerable to fraud, identity theft and other scams. According to a Norton Cybercrime Report, 378 million adults worldwide were victims of cybercrime in 2013.
In recognition of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we’d like to offer the following tips to help consumers stay safe and secure online:
- Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
- Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.
- Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at email@example.com – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.
- Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc. Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
- Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.
- Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects.
The volume of cyber threats to mobile computing devices continues to increase as new applications and devices proliferate. McAfee reports that there were more than two million new mobile malware samples in 2013. Symantec reports that nearly 40% of mobile device users have experienced mobile cyber crime in the past 12 months. Some experts estimate that nearly 10% of applications sold on particular platforms are malicious. Most mobile malware gets installed when a user visits an infected website or downloads a malicious application, or clicks on a link or an attachment.
How can you protect yourself? Here’are some helpful tips for keeping the information on your mobile device safe.
- Lock the device
An easy way for malware to get on a device is for someone to manually install it. Locking your device with a strong PIN/password makes unauthorized installation of applications more difficult.
- Install applications from trusted sources
Users must recognize that some applications may be malicious. If an app is requesting more permissions than seems necessary, do not install it, or uninstall the application. Only install applications from trusted sources.
- Don’t jailbreak your device
To “jailbreak” or to “root” a device means to bypass important controls and gain full access to the operating system. Doing this will usually void the warranty and can create security risks. This also enables applications, including malicious ones, to bypass controls and access the data owned by other apps.
- Keep operating systems and apps up-to-date
Manufacturers, telecommunications providers, and software providers regularly update their software to fix vulnerabilities. Make sure your device’s operating system and apps are regularly updated and running the most recent versions.
- Use a mobile security software solution
Install antivirus software, if available.
- Block web ads and/or don’t click on them
Malware can find it’s way onto your mobile device through a variety of methods, including advertisements. The malicious advertisements are called “malvertisements.” Mobile ads accompany a significant amount of content found in mobile applications. Whether you find them annoying or amusing, cyber criminals have turned their attention toward using them to spread malware to unsuspecting users. What makes these “malvertisements” so dangerous is the fact that they are often delivered through legitimate ad networks and may not appear outright spam, but can contain Trojans or lead to malicious websites when clicked on. Some mobile devices have software that can block harmful sites.
- Don’t click suspicious links and attachments
While it may be difficult to spot some phishing attempts, it’s important to be cautious about all communications you receive, including those purported to be from “trusted entities”. Be careful when clicking on links or attachments contained within those messages.
- Disable unwanted services/calling
Capabilities such as Bluetooth and NFC can provide ease and convenience in using your smartphone. They can also provide an easy way for a nearby, unauthorized user to gain access to your data. Turn these features off when they are not required.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi
Many smartphone users use free Wi-Fi hotspots to access data (and keep their phone plan costs down). Smartphones are susceptible to malware and hacking when leveraging unsecured public networks. To be safe, avoid logging into accounts, especially financial accounts, when using public wireless networks.