Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that just won’t seem to end, it appears that scammers have made noticeable efforts to ramp up their game.
“We continue to see scam artists use the pandemic to steal money and information from honest taxpayers in a time of crisis,” Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement.
“We provide this list to alert taxpayers about common scams that fraudsters use against their victims. At the IRS, we are dedicated to stopping these criminals, but it’s up to all of us to remain vigilant to protect ourselves and our families,” he continued.
According to AARP, an interest group focusing on issues affecting those over the age of fifty, fraudsters are apparently trying to “get their paws on your Social Security number, which they can combine with other personal details they’ve obtained about you to open credit accounts, collect unemployment insurance, circumvent your benefits, commit crimes and unleash a whole lot of misery in your name.”
Protect Sensitive Information
In an effort to stop such criminal activities, the Social Security Administration (SSA) and other security experts are warning people to use Social Security numbers only when necessary. “Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America,” according to the SSA.
“Similar precautions apply to your driver’s license, insurance and medical IDs, and other information that in the wrong hands can bleed your finances and wreak havoc,” according to the AARP.
An update on the AARP website warns to “be extremely wary of providing your Social Security number to someone who has called you.” But if a person believes the individual asking for a Social Security number is indeed trustworthy, providing that sensitive information via email can still be highly dangerous.
“If documentation isn’t required and you just need to share an ID number or some other details, you can provide the information over the phone,” according to the website.
Using Tech to One’s Advantage
However, sending encrypted emails could be a great option, as such messages are scrambled behind cryptographic algorithms and other security-focused methods.
“But while businesses may rely on encrypted email to keep snoops at bay, it isn't typically a user-friendly option,” the AARP website states. “Not only must the sender have the wherewithal to encrypt a message, but the recipient also needs the right digital key to unscramble it.”
Finally, perhaps the “safest way to share your financial and health documents is by uploading them to a password-protected secure ‘portal’ or cloud platform, with credentials from your employer, bank or accountant,” according to the website.
After that is successfully done, the other side is able to download the documents and return them for review or to get electronic signatures.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.