A little known financial resource published by the Internal Revenue Service is a posting to their website titled, “Tax Tips”. We find these tips to be helpful to our clients and contacts and often reference them on our website and through our Firm’s Linked In accounts.
One recent Internal Revenue Service Security Awareness Tax Tip Number 5, published on December 21, 2015,and titled, “Talk to Your Family about Security Online and at Home” seems to be very timely and more than a little useful.
While many individuals simply assume everyone is well versed in matters of identity and financial security, the Tax Tip notes that, “For families with children and aging parents, it’s important to make sure everyone guards their personal information [both] online and at home, offering that it may be time for “the conversation.”
Especially in families that use the same computer, all family members should be warned against turning off any security software in use. It is also critically important that extreme caution be exercised before opening any suspicious emails. It is important to teach users that they should never click on embedded links or download attachments of emails from “unknown” sources.
As most of us fully understand, identity thieves are just one of many predators plying the Internet. It should be kept in mind that the actions by one computer user can easily infect the machine for all other users. That is an important concern when dealing with personal financial details or sensitive items such as tax information.
The Tax Tip goes on to note that, “Kids should be warned against oversharing personal information on social media. By oversharing information such as home addresses, a new family car or a parent’s new job they give identity thieves another window into an extra bit of information they need to electronically impersonate you.”
Aging parents are often another prime target for identity thieves. If seniors are browsing the Internet, they may need the same conversation about online security, avoiding spam email schemes and oversharing on social media as younger family members.
Another protective element for seniors using a computer is to have someone in the family provide assistance in routinely reviewing charges to their credit cards as well as withdrawals from their financial accounts. Unused (and, thus, unnecessary) credit cards should be canceled. An annual review should be made of their credit reports to ensure no new accounts are being opened and used by thieves. Finally, reviewing the family member’s account with the Social Security Administration can ensure that no excessive income is accruing to their account.
Seniors also are especially vulnerable to scam calls and pressure from fraudsters posing as legitimate organizations, including the Internal Revenue Service, and demanding payment for debts not owed. The problem is compounded when seniors live alone. As noted numerous times in our postings, the Internal Revenue Service will never make threats of lawsuit or jail or demand that a certain payment method, such as a debit card, be made.
Fraudsters will also try to trick seniors, telling them they have won a grand prize in a contest or that a relative needs money – anything to persuade a person to give up personal information such as their Social Security number or financial account information.
Some “seemingly” simple steps – and a conversation – can help the young and old avoid identity theft schemes and scammers. Constant reinforcement that no confidential information should be provided on the computer or by telephone can help defeat these identity thieves.
Thefts of confidential information continue to grow both in numbers and in level of sophistication. Keeping the conversation alive and constant can go a long way in minimizing the risk.