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- Avoid IRS Imposter Scams This Tax Season
While IRS imposter scams happen year-round, they are particularly prevalent during tax season and in times of crisis (ex: scams related to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic). These imposter scams can lead to tax fraud and identity theft -- here's how to identify and avoid them. SCAM #1: PHISHING Phishing is an attempt to obtain sensitive information or payment (usernames, passwords, account details, etc.) by scammers impersonating a reputable company -- in this case, the IRS. Once these credentials are acquired, scammers can use the information to withdraw money from your accounts, apply for benefits/other accounts in your name, and much more. Be on the lookout for fake IRS emails that want you to input private information to collect a tax refund or a pandemic stimulus payment, pay overdue taxes, or apply for benefits. A GOOD RULE OF THUMB: The IRS will never email you or text you to discuss tax debts or refunds. The IRS may call you to set up an appointment, but they won't do so without sending you a letter first. If you receive an unsolicited email claiming to be the IRS, do not reply, click any links, or open any attachments. By doing so, you may be unknowingly installing malicious software onto your device. *IF YOU RECEIVE AN EMAIL FROM THE "IRS," DON'T EVEN CLICK ON IT... IT IS NOT THE IRS* Do not provide any personal information in response to an email or a text (or through any digital communication) SCAM #2: FRAUDULENT PHONE CALLS Scammers who are claiming to be the IRS will often call saying you owe taxes. They demand you pay this bill through a gift card, prepaid debit card, or wire transfer. They may also call saying that you are eligible to receive COVID-related benefits, and will ask for personal account information in order to send the payment. Here's how to tell if you're dealing with a scammer: They demand immediate payment and will often offer to assist you in sending this payment They use aggressive tactics (scare tactics) that are extremely threatening in nature. They may threaten arrest, deportation, or license revocation They request any account numbers (debit, credit, or bank account) SCAM #3: IDENTITY THEFT Scammers can steal your personal information for illegal, fraudulent activities, like filing a tax return in your name. A growing scam involves criminals stealing client data from tax professionals, or by obtaining your tax software login information to file a tax return and have it deposited into a bank account (that isn't yours). Here's how to avoid this scam: Use a unique name/password for tax filing software, and update it annually Do not share your Social Security number with others unless absolutely necessary Shred any sensitive documents when you discard them Review your credit report every year to confirm the list of credit accounts is accurate If you fall for a tax scam, do not panic. Report identity theft to IdentityTheft.gov. If your Social Security number is stolen, contact the IRS immediately. You can also file a complaint at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/assistant. Stay vigilant, stay aware, stay safe.
- Avoid this email scam and secure your facebook account
Most of us have probably received an email at some point from Facebook saying, "someone is trying to log onto your account." The feeling of dread that comes upon you in that moment is gut-wrenching and hard to shake. It feels like a serious invasion of privacy, which is why we are typically so quick to act. HOWEVER... you must be alert when it comes to these emails. All too often, scammers use this as a way to hack into a victim's account or get information out of them. Before you click on the link in the email to "secure your account," check out some of the warning signs below. Looks kind of legit, right? The red text in the photo above points out obvious ways to confirm whether or not the email can be trusted. 1) The email subject doesn't make sense and is grammatically incorrect. Sometimes, it will contain emojis. I can promise you one thing: Facebook will never send you an email with a subject that has emojis. 2) The email address is crazy looking and is un-readable. For anything security-related, the email will come from email@example.com. Any other email address is fraudulent. 3) Check the "sent to" email address! If it does not say your actual email address, it was probably sent out to many, many people. Hackers do this because they expect at least one person to fall victim. 4) Check the display name. In the above email, it shows that their display name is "Hi." This should be the biggest red flag in and of itself. 5) They didn't use my full name in the email. Instead, they used the first part of my email address. Facebook/Instagram/Twitter will always use your name and not the first part of your email address (the part before the @ sign). 6) There will never be two options to choose from when it comes to securing your account. There will always just be one option that prompts you to enter a code to change your password. 7 - bonus!) The hacker sent this to an email address that isn't even associated with my Facebook account. Big whoops on their part. Before you respond to one of these emails, always go to Facebook privacy settings to see where you're logged in. If you notice something there that seems suspicious, you will be able to log out of all devices/sessions and reset your password. See the below screenshot for reference: If you notice a log-in from a suspicious location or a device you don't recognize, immediately log out of all sessions and reset your password. To get to this screen, follow the steps below: 1) Click the small "down" arrow in the upper right-hand corner 2) Click "Settings and Privacy" 3) Click "Settings" 4) Click "Security and Login" from the lefthand side menu 5) View all of your active sessions! To ensure ultimate safety, it is best to set up two-factor authentication. This will send your phone/email a code every time someone tries to log on to your account. I have also installed an authentication app called "Duo" that further secures my account -- I encourage you all to download it as well! There is a new scam going around where hackers take possession of your social media profiles and demand a ransom to give you back control of your account. These ransoms can reach over $1,000 in some cases. It's better to be safe than sorry -- always make sure your account is locked down. Continually perform self-checks to make sure you're only logged into your personal devices, set up two-factor authentication, and be wary of suspicious emails from Facebook!
- Keeping up with email scams
Recently, someone very close to me fell victim to an email scam that gave the hacker full remote access to their computer (super scary, I know). These email scams can look incredibly realistic, so it's important to be able to distinguish between what's legit and what's not. These emails attempt to fool you into visiting a website to either download malware or reveal sensitive personal information. The perpetrators of phishing scams craft the website to look like the real thing. Here's how to protect yourself from these scams: 1) Stay informed on the latest phishing techniques! Being informed on the latest scams can help you avoid a potentially scary situation. Be wary of emails asking for your password, emails with misspelled words or grammatical errors (if an email comes from a legitimate site like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Instagram, etc. it more than likely will NOT have any spelling or grammatical errors), emails that contain a suspicious link for you to click, emails that promise you money if you click on a link, emails that say, "We've been trying to reach you about ____," the list goes on and on. Basically, be cautious when clicking on any link in ANY email. Most phishing emails start with, "Dear Customer," so that can be very indicative of an email you DON'T want to open. 2) Install an anti-phishing toolbar (from a trusted site). Most internet browsers these days will allow you to install such a toolbar -- these toolbars are completely free and will alert you if you attempt to visit a site that is malicious. This is just an extra layer of protection against phishing scams! You can download anti-phishing software here: https://www.avira.com/en/avira-browser-safety 3) Keep your browser up-to-date. Security patches are released for browsers on a fairly regular basis. These patches are released to account for any security loopholes that hackers and phishers are using to exploit innocent victims. Never ignore messages about updating your browser -- when an update is available, download it and install it immediately. 4) Never give out personal information. In general, you should never share personal or financial information over the internet. If something seems phishy, it probably is. ALWAYS go to the main page of the company in question and call their customer service line to verify whether or not they actually contacted you. Never send an email with sensitive information to anyone. If you do have to submit info online, make sure the website is secure by checking to see if it has "https" in front of the URL. For more in-depth information on what to look out for regarding email phishing scams, visit the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team website here.
- Facebook scams: how can I protect myself?
As we dive deeper into the digital age, social media has become exceedingly prevalent in our society. With more and more people joining social sites like Facebook, fraudsters have seen this as an opportunity to create scams very specific to each platform. Let's take a look into the different scams that are used on Facebook, and shine a light on effective ways consumers can protect their identities and information. 1. The Facebook "Challenge" Scam There has recently been a trend on Facebook that encourages users to divulge personal information. One of these challenges looks like this "My mother was a ___, my father was a ___." where you attended school, and where you were born. The answers to these questions are often used as answers to password security questions. Sharing any of this information can lead to identity theft, so think before you post. 2. The "See Who's Viewed Your Profile" Scam This scam tries to steer you toward a clickable link that does not contain data showing who has viewed your Facebook profile. Instead, you may be sent to a survey, gift card offer, or a page that asks you to submit personal information in order to "view this list." Always be aware that Facebook will not send you a list of who has been viewing your profile, as it would be breaching their personal security clause. If you receive a link like this, delete the message immediately after reporting the account who sent it as a spam account. 3. The "See Who's Blocked You" Scam This scam is the same as the one above. Facebook would never divulge any information pertaining to who has blocked you or muted you, so bypass these links completely or you run the risk of having malware installed onto your device. 4. The Facebook "Video" Scam Have you ever gotten a message from a friend saying "I can't believe what you're doing in this video!" with a link attached or something along those lines? Has one of your "friends" threatened to release a video of you? This is a common scam on Facebook that plays on ego. There is no video when you click the link, but a data thief who will take the information you provide and build a step-by-step targeted attack against your personal data. Never click on these links, even if it appears to come from someone on your friend list. 5. The Facebook "Testing" Scam If you are ever asked by "Facebook" or a "friend" to test a new Facebook feature, this is a scam. The most recent "testing" scam sends a message to unassuming users telling them they have been selected to test out the new Facebook "dislike" button, and provides a link to enable this feature. Do not click the link, as it will install malware onto your device and steal personal information. Facebook pays plenty of people to test their new software, and if they are wanting to test a new feature, they will release it to certain parts of the world -- not random people. For example, the "dislike" button is currently only being tested in New Zealand and Australia. 6. The "Fake News" Facebook Scam For this scam, oftentimes a link will be sent around containing information about a major event, like a horrible plane crash or a celebrity death, along with a provocative image. You will click on the "news link," which actually will trigger a malware installation. When you click this link, it will also be shared to your Facebook for other people to click on (this perpetuates the scam and keeps it alive). NEVER click on these links -- instead, Google the information first to see if it is real (if the article title says "(Insert celeb name here) dead at the age of 39!" ALWAYS fact check it before you click on an unreliable link -- or copy the link and test it in the "link checker" section of this website!) 7. The "Your Facebook Account Will Be Deleted" Scam This scam sends you an email pretending to be from "Facebook," warning that your account is about to be canceled (in some instances, the message may ask you to confirm your Facebook account). The scammer requests that you send your Facebook username and password back in response in order to verify your identity, or it will have you click on an external link. This is a phishing scam and is designed to steal your personal information. If Facebook wants to contact you, they will send you a direct message on the app itself, not an email. (Side note: Facebook would never delete your account if you don't seem to use it often or for any reason other than you have been reported too many times -- if this is the case, Facebook will send you a message on the app alerting you that this action is going to take place. Facebook will NEVER make you "copy and paste" a message to show them you are still active and to not delete your account. If you see this post being re-posted by many of your friends, it is best to simply move on. Your Facebook profile will not be deleted.) 8. The "Malicious Tagging" Scam This scam all starts when you are tagged in a post with several other of your friends. Because you are tagged in a post with your friends, you assume the link is safe to click on -- in many cases, it may even appear that a friend of yours has shared this post. This is often a link to an "adult" video -- when you click on it, a pop-up window appears that prompts you to download the latest version of Flash before watching the video, which is really malware. Once you click this link, the post is shared to your Facebook profile. Some steps to avoid this scam: don't click links that contain descriptions such as, "exclusive," "shocking," or "sensational" footage; don't click on links that are shortened -- if you cant tell the exact website you're going to, it is probably a scam; don't always trust what your friends post because their account could have been compromised; report any and all scams you see so that you are able to stop the rapid spread of this malicious tagging scam. Together, we can work to mitigate these scams and make social media a safer place for all people. Remember: think before you click!
- The Be KYNd Project... what is it?
The Be KYNd Project has a simple goal: spread kindness online and offline. One in three young people have experienced cyberbullying in some capacity over the course of their lifetime, and many don't report the threats they receive. Studies have shown that students who are victims of online bullying are two times more likely to commit suicide. This research also suggests that suicide ideation and attempts have doubled since 2008. It's time to put an end to online bullying -- it's time to be KYNd. How can you play a role in the Be KYNd Project? It's easy. If you notice negative behavior toward someone online, stand up for them. Leave a kind comment on someone's social media post. Send someone a hand-written letter when they aren't expecting it. If you are out volunteering in your community, document it, post it online, and tag #beKYNd and #beKYNdproject so we can feature you on our website! You can also help put an end to cyberbullying by purchasing custom #beKYNd merch. The proceeds from each sale will go to the Cybersmile Foundation. You can read more about them here. Remember: in a world where you can be anything, #beKYNd.
- Support for Cyberbullying Victims
One in three children have admitted to experiencing some kind of cyberbullying over the course of their lifetime. Young people who are victims of online bullying are two times more likely to have suicidal thoughts and tendencies. With these statistics in mind, it is important to recognize the signs cyberbullying and learn ways to support the victim What is different about cyberbullying? Cyberbullying can take place at any time, even when the victim is not at school or in the work place. It invades the victim's personal space at home. The audience can be very large and reached rapidly. Electronically forwarded content is hard to control, and there is always a worry of the content resurfacing. This can make it difficult for targets to move on. People who cyberbully can oftentimes remain anonymous. Cyberbullying can be between peers and across generations. Teachers have oftentimes been the targets of their students -- students may find an embarrassing image or video of them and share it throughout the school. Some cyberbullying instances are unintentional. They can be the result of careless thinking or lack of awareness of the consequences. Many cyberbullying instances can contain evidence, which is why it's important to know how to respond. Signs your loved one may be experiencing cyberbullying: The victim appears nervous when they receive a text, instant message, or email. They seem nervous or reluctant to go to school, and they may even pretend to be ill to avoid it all together They don't share any information about their online activity They are inexplicably angry or appear to be suffering from depression, especially after going online They abruptly shut off or walk away from their computer mid-use They withdraw from social activities with friends and family They seem withdrawn and quiet in general They suffer from unexplained stomachaches or headaches They have trouble sleeping at night or they sleep all day long (this is often a symptom of depression) They have unexplained weight loss or weight gain (also a sign of depression) They express suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide How to support victims of cyberbullying Support the young person being bullied As with other forms of bullying, the target may be in need of emotional support. Reassure them that it is not their fault and that you are here to help them -- let them know that they did the right thing by telling someone. Empower them It is essential to advise the target to not retaliate in any way or reply angrily to any of the messages. This is what the bully wants -- by not reacting, the bully may be confused and not continue with their actions. Report the bullying It is important to always report the bully. Most social networking sites have features that allow users to report cyberbullying. In certain instances, it may be necessary to report any online threats to local law enforcement. Always keep evidence of the bullying in case you need it in the future. If you believe your loved one is experiencing cyberbullying, visit stopbullying.gov to view your options. It is imperative you seek professional help immediately if you believe your loved one is struggling. If they threaten suicide, call 911.
- How to Avoid COVID-19 Scams and Misinformation
Phishing scams often prey on a victim's fear by using real and current threats to obtain personal information like passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers, and more. Other times, they see opportunity in capitalizing on stories that are highly prevalent in the news. So what happens when you have both scenarios with COVID-19? Yep, you guessed it -- COVID-19 malware is a thing now. What is COVID-19 malware? Basically, scammers are using the coronavirus pandemic to "offer" information or services to the public. The above image is an example of one of many coronavirus-related scams. Industry targeted emails There have been several scams going around targeting manufacturing, transportation, higher education, and healthcare industries that promote COVID-19 cures and topical conspiracies. Once the email attachment is opened, malware is able to harvest the victim's data. World Health Organization emails At the beginning of the outbreak, a "spoofing campaign" was launched to target people in areas that were going into shutdown. These emails coincided with the government increasing quarantine measures and therefore capitalized on the fear of those receiving the emails. This campaign contained a "list of precautions" to take to stop the spread of the virus. When the victim opened the document, their device was immediately compromised. Emails sent to remote workers With everyone working from home, hackers are sending emails to remote workers claiming to be from the company HR departments (for most companies, their employees' information is available online -- anyone can access it). This scam asks for the user to sign into DocuSign or Microsoft Word. These scammers typically imitate someone who actually works in the HR department. Once the link is clicked, malware is installed on the victim's device. Coronavirus reactive maps Several organizations have created reactive maps that allow viewers to track where the virus has spread. This scam shows the actual reactive map, but contains malware that steals info stored in your browser (passwords, credit card info, etc.) How can you avoid these scams? While these emails may look like they come from a legitimate source, it is best to proceed with caution before clicking on anything. Don't click on links from unknown senders. If you haven't subscribed to receive emails from a certain sender (such as the World Health Organization) and all of a sudden, they send you an email, it's probably a scam. Does the email address match the sender's name (if the sender's name is "Don" and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, this should be a red flag)? Are there typos in the email? Is the layout slightly off and the sentences structured strangely? If you notice these things, do not click on any links or documents that the email may contain. If they send you a link to a website, run it through a URL checker (see "URL Checker" tab under "Resources") to make sure it's legitimate. Educate yourself. Stay up-to-date on current scams so that if you do encounter one, you will know right away. Think about how it has been shared. Social media and email accounts can be easily hacked and information can be distributed by a hacker with malicious intent. Always be wary of clicking any link, no matter who it's from. Help stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation While Google, Facebook, and Twitter are working diligently to help stop the spread of "fake news," it is ultimately up to us. Always fact check information before you post it. If it seems extreme, it probably isn't factual. If you see someone else spreading misinformation, send them a direct message to let them know that the information they posted is false.