You no doubt enjoy and depend on the modern convenience of the internet as a personal and global resource. Failing to recognize the inherent dangers that come with being plugged in, though, can cost you dearly. Beyond the discomfort of falling victim to a compromised identity is the very real threat of suffering a financial catastrophe. Believe it or not, your taxes may be the main target.
Tax fraud has become an endemic problem, claiming thousands of victims and costing millions of taxpayer and government dollars. Popular scams include bogus IRS agents calling unsuspecting individuals and extorting money for payment of (often nonexistent) tax debts; some fraudsters simply file phony tax returns, creating six months' worth of trouble for the people who've been victimized. Most recently, the IRS announced that around 100,000 taxpayers had previous years' returns compromised through the agency's online return retrieval resource. You might wonder just how you can hope to keep your own identity safeguarded these days. There are no foolproof solutions, but you can definitely hamper scammer efforts by taking a few key precautions.
Using social media platforms can become problematic if you offer too many personal details to the world. Scammers who have basic info such as your name and social security number can take their endeavors to a whole new level by obtaining details that allows them to defeat security questions. Many financial and government sites you will visit have these questions as an extra safeguard to prevent unauthorized users from infiltrating your accounts.
These hurdles can be easily overcome, however, if the answers to your security questions can be gleaned from information you post on commonly trafficked social media sites. If, for example, one of your questions asks, "what was your high school mascot" and you've included where you went to school on your media page, a resourceful scammer can find the answer. Take care in what you post, or at least lock your information down so what is visible can be seen only by those you trust.
Fraudsters will often attempt to elicit valuable personal details by asking you to respond to information over the phone or through email. To make matters worse, the individual contacting you can appear very convincing. Detail-conscious criminals will sound authoritative when calling and may go so far as to use familiar government agency emblems in emails to complete their illusion. Be wary of anyone calling or sending a message asking you to confirm information, no matter how trivial their request seems. If you suspect there is a problem with your tax or financial account, call the institution directly and confirm your records are secure.
You can add an extra layer of protection by exploring options to monitor your credit. Many times, prevention is critical in averting a financial disaster. Using a verified service to keep you alerted to suspicious activity with your identity or finances can minimize the chances of a problem, and give you peace of mind. While it's always wise to exercise caution when it comes to security, it may also be helpful to call on a professional.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of scam that compromises your finances, you have to respond quickly. As you'll likely be dealing with both shock and stress when it happens, go ahead and make a plan now. Being prepared for such a contingency can save you time, particularly if you know which credit services you'll need to call, or which Treasury Department number is the one you'll want. Although you can't be ready for every problem you might encounter, you can certainly prepare for the worst.