LANSING — The Michigan Department of Treasury is warning Michiganders and tax professionals to be alert for scams and identity theft schemes by criminals who may take advantage of the holiday shopping season, approaching tax season and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The combination of the three is looking to be a perfect storm for scammers to take advantage of people and online vigilance will be a necessity. As a result, the state Treasury Department has partnered with the Internal Revenue Service and taxing agencies in other states to provide tips on the basic safeguards everyone should follow.
“Scammers are always looking for opportunities to steal the identity of taxpayers,‘ Rachael Eubanks, Michigan Treasurer said. “This year, we are in a unique situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Please be extra vigilant for scams when holiday shopping or conducting business online. If you have questions about your taxes or suspect you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft, always feel free to contact us for assistance.‘
The treasury department is reminding people to use security software for computers and mobile phones and keep it updated. They also recommend that any purchased antivirus software has a feature to stop malware as well as a firewall to prevent intrusions.
Phishing scams, such as imposter emails, calls and texts, are the No. 1 way scammers steal personal data. The treasury department also stresses to not open links or attachments that are part of suspicious emails.
2020 also has seen fraud scams related to COVID-19 and the Economic Impact Payment become common, according to the treasury department. For that reason, it is recommended to use strong and unique passwords for online accounts. It also is recommended to use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. Many email providers and social media sites offer this feature. It helps prevent thieves from easily hacking accounts.
Although the holiday shopping season is nearly complete, the treasury department recommends only shopping sites online where the web address begins with “https.” The “s” is for secure communications over the computer network and it also is recommended to look for the “padlock” icon in the browser window.
The treasury department also recommends not shopping on unsecured public Wi-Fi and when at home secure your family’s Wi-Fi with a password. With more homes connected to the web, secured systems are more important than ever. Wireless printers, wireless door locks to wireless thermometers can be access points for identity thieves.
Back up files on computers and mobile phones. A cloud service or an external hard drive can be used to copy information from computers or phones – providing an important place to recover financial or tax data.
People can check out security recommendations for their specific mobile phone by reviewing the Federal Communications Commission’s Smartphone Security Checker. Since phones are used for shopping and even for doing taxes, remember to make sure phones and tablets are just as secure as computers.