Cyber thieves gear up to cash in during the holidays and again during tax season
Whatever you're doing this holiday season - don't let your guard down.
With the holiday shopping season in full swing, the Internal Revenue service is partnering with the Federal Trade Commission and other state agencies to warn cyber thieves are gearing up to do some serious damage.
They say the winter holidays are a prime chance for scammers to get at your bank account right now — then sabotage your tax return next spring.
More people are shopping online now, and the Federal Trade Commission says more scammers are lurking in cyberspace.
"This is the time of year when more of us are online buying more things and providing more information," said Chuck Harwood, FTC Regional Director in Seattle.
Among the ways scammers attack: bogus ads on social media, products offered online that do not exist, look-alike websites that direct you to a fraudster site, free product offers and online posts for temporary holiday jobs.
"Scammers know that we're out there looking for jobs, they know that this is the time of year they can steal information from job seekers," Harwood explained.
According to the IRS, a lot of that stolen information ends up being used at tax time, when criminals file for refunds using stolen social security numbers.
"The IRS has a policy that they just accept one return for every social security number," explained IRS Special Agent Mark Pahnke. "So if a criminal puts in their return before you, they they're going to be the one that gets their tax return entered."
A lot of people don't even know until they try to submit their real return, that one has already been filed and that a criminal has their information."
Pahnke warns whenever you go online remember, cyberspace criminals could be waiting for you to slip up.
"You just need to always be aware that there's always vulnerabilities when it comes to using your computer," Pahnke stressed.
Never shop using public Wi-Fi. Always verify merchant websites. Be wary of free downloads, especially holiday-themed entertainment, screen savers or mobile apps; they could actually be malware designed to collect personal information, passwords and files from your device.
Also, avoid unfamiliar websites with no phone number or street address. And be aware phishing scams are on the rise; that's where you get an email out of the blue that looks exactly like it's from a legitimate company, claiming your password is about to expire or you must update your account. Never click on any unsolicited email asking you to update anything.
Bottom line: Don't get so caught up on the season, that you get caught off guard.
Privacy experts say if you haven't already- put a freeze your credit report so that no one can establish credit in your name, without your permission.