Taking online security seriously can help people keep their information safe and out of the hands of identity thieves and scammers. It only takes a few simple steps to avoid common security pitfalls. By following these tips, consumers and taxpayers can reduce the risk of losing their identity, money or accounts to criminals.
Always protect personal data
Personal information can include things like birthdays, addresses, age and Social Security numbers. People should only provide their data when necessary and after verifying the identity of the requestor. If someone requests personal or financial information, taxpayers should verify their request separately. For government employees, this could include contacting the agency or visiting the agency's website.
Only shop at reputable retailers
Everyone should shop at reputable online retailers. People should only shop on secure sites avoid any websites with invalid certificates. The letters "https" do not mean that the website is legitimate since criminals can simply purchase valid SSL certificates and attach them to fraudulent websites.
Use security software
People should make sure their security software, such as anti-virus and firewalls are always turned on and automatically updated. They should regularly backup and encrypt sensitive files stored on computers. Sensitive files include things like tax records, school transcripts and college applications. They should also be sure all family members have comprehensive anti-virus protection for their devices, particularly on shared devices.
Chose strong passwords and two-factor authentication
They should use strong, unique passwords for each account and enable two-factor authentication for online accounts where possible. People should never share their password with anyone.
Know the risk of public Wi-Fi
Connection to public Wi-Fi is convenient and often free, but it may not be safe. Criminals can easily steal personal information from these networks. People should always use a virtual private network when connecting to public Wi-Fi.
Learn to recognize and avoid scams
Everyone should be aware of common scams. Criminals use phishing emails, threatening phone calls and texts to pose as IRS employees or other legitimate government or law enforcement agencies. People should remember to never click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
Be aware of compromised accounts
Once a criminal has hacked an email or social media account, they may try to scam the victim's contacts by posing as the victim. Everyone should be suspicious of unusual, out-of-character requests or messages, even when the account belongs to a friend, colleague or family member.