IRS: Protect Yourself Online

The Internal Revenue Service, the states and the tax industry urge taxpayers to take steps to protect themselves online in the fight against identity theft.  Scammers, hackers and identity thieves are stealing taxpayers’ personal information and ultimately their money.  But, there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourselves, like keeping computer software up-to-date and being cautious about giving out your personal information.

Here are some best practices you can follow to protect your tax and financial information, click here.

  1. Understand and Use Security Software. Security software helps protect computers against the digital threats that are prevalent online.  The operating system will include security software from well-known companies or Internet providers.
  2. Allow Security Software to Update Automatically. Set security software to update automatically.  Malware–malicious software—evolves constantly, and your security software suite updates routinely to keep pace.
  3. Look for the “S.” When shopping or banking online, always ensure that the site uses encryption to protect your information.  Look for “https” at the beginning of the web address.
  4. Use Strong Passwords. Use passwords of eight or more characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters.  Don’t use your name, birthdate or common words.
  5. Secure Wireless Networks. A wireless network sends a signal through the air that allows it to connect to the Internet.  If your home or business Wi-Fi is unsecure, it also allows any computer within range to access your wireless and potentially steal information from your computer.
  6. Be Cautious When Using Public Wireless Networks. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are convenient but often not secured.
  7. Avoid E-mail Phishing Attempts. Never reply to an emails, text or pop-up messages asking for personal, tax or financial information.  Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust.  Instead, go directly to the organization’s website.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students which best practices they follow to protect their tax and financial information. Make a list and share it with other students.
  • Ask students to make a list of essential software tools available to them for keeping their financial/tax information secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why it might be prudent to purchase security software programs from well-known companies or Internet providers?
  2. Where should you keep your passwords list and why?

When Small Charges Can Signal a Big Crime

Counting every penny on your credit and debit card statements can help detect fraud

Most people looking at their bank statements would probably notice if their credit or debit card were used without their approval to purchase a big ticket item, and they would quickly call their bank or card issuer to report the error or fraudulent transaction.  But consumers are less likely to be suspicious of very small charges, including those less than a dollar…which is why criminals like to make them.

“These transactions might be signs that someone has learned your account information and is using it to commit a crime,” said Michael Benardo, manager of the (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) FDIC’s Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section.  “That’s why it’s important to be on the lookout for fraudulent transactions, no matter how small.”

He added, “When thieves fraudulently obtain someone else’s credit or debit card information and create counterfeit card, they might test it out with a small transaction—like buying a pack of gum or a soda—to make sure the counterfeit card works before using it to make a big purchase.  If this test goes unnoticed, by the true account holder, thieves will use the card to buy something expensive that they want or that they can easily sell for cash.”

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know someone who had his/her credit or debit card compromised. If so, how they detected the illegal charge and how the problem was solved.
  • Under what circumstances should you close the compromised account?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to regularly scrutinize your monthly credit and debit card statements?
  2. What can be consumers do to protect themselves from such frauds? What is the best way to catch this type of fraud?

Chip Card Scams

Scammers are taking advantage of millions of consumers who haven’t yet received a chip card.  For example, scammers are e-mailing people, posing as their card issuer.  The scammers claim that in order to issue a new chip card, they need to update your account by confirming some personal information or clicking on a link to continue the process.  Information received can be used to commit identify theft.  If they click on the link, they may unknowingly install malware on your device.

How can you tell if the e-mail is from a scammer?

  • There is no reason your card issuer needs to contact you by e-mail or by phone to confirm personal information before sending you a new chip card number.
  • Still not sure if the e-mail is a scam? Contact your card issuers at phone numbers on your cards.
  • Don’t trust links in e-mails. Only provide personal information through a company’s website if you typed in the web address yourself and you see that the site is secure, like a URL that begins https (the “s” stands for secure).

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to visit other identify theft websites, such as, consumer.gov/idtheft, to learn what to do if your identity is stolen.
  • Ask students to compile a list of what actions can they take to ensure that their credit/debit cards and other financial information are secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you discover that someone has stolen your identity?
  2. What steps can you take to thwart identity thieves?

New Credit and Debit Chip Cards

Banks and card issuers have been sending out new credit and debit chip cards, usually as existing cards expire or need replacement.  If you haven’t gotten your new cards, don’t worry.  The rollout will continue at least through 2016.  If you want to know when yours new chip cards will arrive, contact your card issuers at the phone numbers on your cards.

Your new cards look like your old cards with one exception.  New cards have a small square metallic chip on the front.  The chip holds your payment data—some of which is currently held on the magnetic stripe on your old cards—and provides a unique code for each purchase.  The metallic chip is designed to reduce fraud, including counterfeiting.

Here’s how it works: To buy something in a store, instead of swiping your card, you’ll put it into a reader for few seconds.  Then you might have to sign or enter a PIN.  With each transaction, the chip generates a unique code needed for approval.  The code is good only for that transaction.  Because the security is always changing, it’s more difficult for someone to steal and use.

There will be no change in how you use your card online or by phone.  That means chip cards won’t prevent crooks from using stolen card numbers to buy online or by phone.  So it’s a good idea to still guard your card information closely, and check statements for suspicious activity.  If there is a problem, your consumer protections remain the same.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they have received a new chip credit or debit card. Show how the new card differs from the old card.
  • Do you believe that new cards will help reduce fraud? Why or why not?

Discussion Questions

  1. How might scammers try to take advantage of the millions of consumers who have not yet received a chip card?
  2. How can you protect yourself from the scammers?

Income Tax Identity Theft Baffles IRS

“Income tax identity theft is a huge problem that is only getting worse.”

According to a 2015 report of the General Accountability Office (GAO), the IRS paid out $5.8 billion in bogus refunds to identity thieves for the 2013 tax year–the latest year that complete data are available.  To make matters worse, the actual dollar amount is probably higher because of the difficulty of knowing the amount of undetected fraud.

To combat the problem, the IRS announced a new cooperative effort between the IRS, state tax administrators, and private tax preparation services to fight income tax identity theft.  A number of specific steps are outlined in this article.  Unfortunately, the experts admit there are additional problems to stopping identity thieves that are not addressed in the new program.  In fact, most experts agree that additional regulations are required to coordinate employer reporting of employee wages with Social Security reporting requirements.

For individual taxpayers, bogus tax returns become a very real and personal problem if their social security number is stolen and their personal tax return is flagged by the IRS as suspicious.  To help resolve disputed tax returns, the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate, which is an internal watchdog for consumers at the IRS, suggests that you file a police report and then mail a paper tax return with an attached Form 14039–Identity Theft Affidavit with a copy of the police report.  In addition to additional documentation, expect that it may take on average 278 days to resolve a claim if you become a victim of income tax identity theft.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Discuss the importance of protecting your personal identity and especially your social security number.
  • Stress the importance of monitoring your credit report and all financial documents that could indicate your personal identity has been stolen.

Discussion Questions

  1. What steps can you take to protect your personal identity?
  2. There are a number of credit monitoring services that will help protect your identity. Most charge $75 to $100 or more a year to monitor your financial and personal information.  Do you feel this  service is worth the cost?

Data Breaches and Credit Freezes

News reports of large-scale data breaches–like the September 2014 announcement from Home Depot–have prompted many people to consider a credit freeze.  Also known as a security freeze, this tool lets you limit access to your credit report, which makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

Remember, credit freeze doesn’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.  Even if you elect a credit freeze, you still must monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts for charges you don’t recognize.  Also, remember that you can check your credit reports for free, every few months by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228.

For additional information, go to

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/data-breaches-credit-freezes-and-identity-theft-oh-my?utm_source=govdelivery

Teaching suggestions

You may want to use information in this article to discuss

  • The difference between a credit freeze and a fraud alert.
  • If anyone can see your credit report, is it frozen?

Discussion Questions

  1. Does a credit freeze affect your credit score?
  2. Does a credit freeze stop prescreened credit offers?
  3. How can you place a freeze on your credit report and how do you lift a freeze?

Home Depot Data Breach May Top $50 Million

“Home Depot spokeswoman Paula Drake said ‘protecting our customers’ information is something we take extremely seriously.’” 

At the time of this blog, it is not clear how many Home Depot stores or shoppers were involved, but this breach could be one of the largest data breaches to ever hit a retailer.  It is also estimated that the cyber thieves made an estimated $50 million from this breach by selling credit card numbers and personal information.

Home Depot and many other retailers including Target, P. F. Chang’s, Neiman Marcus, and other companies, have all experienced similar data breaches in recent months.  To combat this problem, many companies are beginning to use a new “chip and pin” technology.  Already in use in Europe, the new technology contains a chip in your credit or debit card with account information, requires the user to use pin identification, and is nearly impossible to counterfeit.  Because the new technology has dual verification, card transactions are much, much safer for both retailer and customer.

For more information go to http://www.cbsnews.com/news/home-depot-data-breach-may-top-50-million/

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Stress the importance of students monitoring credit and debit card activity on a regular basis.
  • Obtain a credit or debit card with the new chip and pin technology.
  • Encourage students to determine their liability if their credit or debit card information is stolen.

Discussion Questions

  1. Assume you are trying to decide between two different credit cards. One card does not have chip and pin technology and does not charge an annual fee.  The other card does have chip and pin technology, but charges an $85 annual fee?  Which card would you choose?  Explain your answer.
  2. Besides choosing a credit or debit card with chip and pin technology, what other steps can you take to make sure you are not a victim of identity theft?

Text Message Spam

Spam text messages are not only annoying but also illegal. Many con artists use text messages to obtain your personal information by offering a free gift card or vacation. As a result, you become very vulnerable to identity theft.

To avoid becoming a victim of text message spam, register your number on the Do Not Call List.  Also, never click on links in spam messages, which often carry malware or send you to fake websites.

Never reply to these text messages or give out your personal information.  Report the text spam to your cell phone carrier by forwarding the message to 7726 (SPAM).

You can report unwanted commercial text messages and other complaints related to consumer fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1

For additional information on text message spam, go to:

http://blog.usa.gov/post/89152807112/protect-yourself-from-text-message-spam

http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0350-text-message-spam

Teaching Suggestions

  • Have students conduct research to obtain information on various types of scam and frauds.
  • Have students create an in-class presentation or a video communicating actions to take to avoid becoming a victim of consumer fraud.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why do some people easily become victims of text message spam and other consumer frauds?
  2. Describe various types of frauds and scams.
  3. What actions can be taken to avoid becoming a victim of consumer fraud?

 

What Eight Numbers Do Identity Thieves Want?

This article explains why identity thieves want eight different numbers and also provides some helpful tips for avoiding identity theft. The eight numbers include:

1. Phone numbers
2. Specific dates (birth, college attendance, employment, etc.) and Zip Codes
3. PIN Codes
4. Social Security Numbers
5. Bank Account Numbers
6. IP Address
7. Driver’s License and Passport Numbers
8. Health Insurance Account Numbers

For more information go to

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/8-numbers-identity-thieves-want-103033107.html

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Stress that identity theft is on the rise. According to the article, data breaches are now the third certainty in life and sooner or later, you will become a victim.
  • Ask students who have had their identity stolen what steps were necessary to solve the problems associated with identity theft.

Discussion Questions

1. What have you done to protect the eight numbers that thieves want and need to steal your identity?

2. Today many companies offer services designed to help protect your identity. These companies charge from $100 to $200 a year or more. Would you consider using one of these services?

Bogus $10,000 Credit Line

In May 2014, the Federal Trade Commission mailed checks totaling over $3.7 million to over 26,000 consumers whose bank accounts were debited without their consent by EDebitPay LLC.  The company deceptively offered a $10,000 credit line that was really a membership to a website where consumers could buy goods.

In 2011, a federal district court ordered the company to pay more than $3.7 million after finding that the defendants were in contempt of court for violating a 2008 court order by selling a bogus “$10,000 credit line”, and a “no cost” prepaid debit card with hidden fees, to consumers who were unemployed or had poor credit.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them.

For additional information on fraudulent business practices, go to

http://www.ftc.gov

Discussion Questions

1.  How do you discover that someone has debited your bank accounts?

2.  What steps can you take to prevent such fraudulent business practices?

Teaching Suggestions

Ask students what actions might they take to ensure that their credit cards and other financial information are secure.

Ask students to compile a list of resources a person can use to report such fraudulent business practices, and check out a company’s reputation before signing a contract.