We all know what an unusual year this has been.  And as a result of the lockdowns and government recommendations to stay at home, online shopping has thrived this year.  Online shopping and curbside pickups for items such as groceries, meals from restaurants, clothing plus unlimited other items have made this the year of the “virtual consumer”.  Along with this increase in internet shopping and online ordering comes the increased threats of credit card fraud and bank account fraud.  Being in the midst of the holiday and post-Christmas shopping frenzy, online shoppers need to continually have their guard up to protect themselves from the risks of internet hackers, fraudulent websites and identity thieves.

Recently, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig was quoted as saying, “This is generally the hunting season for online thieves, but this year there’s a dangerous combination of factors at play that should make people more alert.  The combination of online holiday shopping, the approaching filing season and more of us are working remotely puts people more at risk. People can help avoid becoming victims of scams or identity thefts, by taking a few simple steps to help protect sensitive tax and financial information.”

Given the surge in consumers making purchases via the internet this past year and the rising trend over the past several years, the IRS has published a list of useful measures that people should consider when using their computers, phone and tablets in order to help protect their personal information.  That list is copied below from the IRS website.

  • Don’t forget to use security software for computers and mobile phones – and keep it updated.
  • Make sure purchased anti-virus software has a feature to stop malware, and there is a firewall that can prevent intrusions.
  • Phishing scams – like imposter emails, calls and texts – are the No. 1 way thieves steal personal data. Don’t open links or attachments on suspicious emails. This year, fraud scams related to COVID-19 and the Economic Impact Payment are common.
  • Use strong and unique passwords for online accounts. Use a phrase or series of words that can be easily remembered or use a password manager.
  • Use multi-factor authentication whenever possible. Many email providers and social media sites offer this feature. It helps prevents thieves from easily hacking accounts.
  • Shop at sites where the web address begins with “https” – the “s” is for secure communications over the computer network. Also, look for the “padlock” icon in the browser window.
  • Don’t shop on unsecured public Wi-Fi in places like a mall. Remember, thieves can eavesdrop.
  • At home, secure home Wi-Fis with a password. With more homes connected to the web, secured systems become more important, from wireless printers, wireless door locks to wireless thermometers. These 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.
  • Working from home? Consider creating a virtual private network (VPN) to securely connect to your workplace.

The entire IRS article can be found at the link below: