It is no surprise that more people shop online between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday than any other time; however, Shopify Plus, an e-commerce platform, suggests that cyber shoppers are expected to spend $7 billion more in December than in November this year.
Cyber criminals are also well aware of the increased online transactions as the holidays near, as this is the opportune time to steal financial account information, social security numbers, credit card information, and other sensitive data that can be used to steal individuals’ identities. These criminals can turn the stolen data into quick cash either by draining financial accounts and charging credit cards or by creating new credit accounts.
With the 2020 tax season just around the corner, these stolen identities could lead to stolen tax refunds, because the stolen personal information could help identity thieves file fraudulent tax returns and intercept taxpayers’ expected refunds.
As such, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and its Security Summit partners are warning taxpayers to take extra steps to protect their tax and financial data from identity theft. The IRS suggests taking the following steps:
- Avoid Unprotected Wi-Fi: unprotected Wi-Fi hotspots in malls or at holiday events allow potential thieves who hack the system to view transactions and obtain sensitive personal data such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, and personal addresses.
- Shop at familiar and secure online retailers: sites using the “s” designation in “https” at the start of the URL are generally secure, however, to be sure, look for the padlock icon in the browser’s URL bar. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that bad actors may obtain a security certificate so the “s” may not vouch for a site’s legitimacy. As such, you should be cautious of purchases at unfamiliar sites or clicks on links from pop-up ads.
- Create passwords that are long and strong: using the same password for every login increases your susceptibility to identity theft; so, instead of using your dog’s name for every password, create a password that is at least 10 characters long using a combination of various symbols and alphanumerical values. If necessary, use a password manager.
- Encrypt and password-protect sensitive data: if you keep financial records, tax returns, or any other personal information on your computer or smart device, then you should encrypt this data by protecting it with a strong password. Additionally, it is important to back-up important data to an external source, such as an external hard drive.
By protecting your sensitive financial information, you will be able to give the gifts you want without giving identity thieves a present.