Working from Home Cybersecurity Tips

Working from Home Cybersecurity Tips

Coronavirus has forced millions of Americans to work remotely from their homes. Although working from home helps with social (physical) distancing by preventing the spread of COVID-19, there are many new challenges that have come with teleworking. For example, many states have closed schools for weeks, and for some, the entire rest of the school year. Parents may be juggling work while their children are learning remotely. You may find yourself becoming an expert with practicing mindfulness along with new software and conferencing programs, such as Zoom and GoToMeetings (or if you aren’t, your children blessedly are).

 

As we are being forced to slow down the pace of everyday life, we recognize that a lot of good can come out of this time. But, on the other side of the coin, there is the growing opportunity for cybercriminals to trick us into forking over passwords during this learning transitional period. Reuters reported last week that “some researchers have found hackers masquerading as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a bid to break into emails or swindle users out of bitcoin, while others have spotted hackers using a malicious virus-themed app to hijack Android phones.” Our blogs last week provided some details on these new scams.

 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has some tips to help protect your devices and personal information while working from home:

Start with cybersecurity basics. Keep your security software up-to-date. Use passwords on all your devices and apps. Make sure the passwords are long, strong and unique. The FTC suggests using at least 12 characters that are a mix of numbers, symbols and capital and lowercase letters.

Secure your home network by starting with your router. Turn on encryption (WPA2 or WPA3), which scrambles information sent over your network so outsiders can’t read it. If no WPA2 or WPA3 options are available with your current router, considering replacing your router altogether.

Keep an eye on your laptop and make sure it is password-protected, locked when you aren’t using it and secure. We suggest that it is never unattended, such as out in plain sight in a vehicle. Even if your doors are locked, windows can easily be broken.

Securely store your physical files. Strong physical security is an important part of cybersecurity. If you don’t have a file cabinet at home that is lockable, consider using a locked room. Read this blog by the FTC to learn more tips about physical security.

Dispose of sensitive data securely. Invest in a shredder if you don’t already have one. Throwing paperwork you no longer need in the garbage or recycling bin can be a treasure for a pirate especially if it includes personal information about customers, vendors or employees.

Follow your employer’s security practices. Since your home is now an extension of your office, make sure that you understand the protocols that your employer has implemented.

 

Be smart. Be vigilant. Be strong. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help. We are available 24/7/365 for you and your family members at 888,966.GUARD (4827) and memberservices@guardwellid.com.

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Tips to Lower Your Fraud Risk this Tax Season

Tips to Lower Your Fraud Risk this Tax Season

It’s tax season! For some, preparing and filing taxes is an hour or two-long process; for others, it’s a week or more. By year-end, the majority of us know if we will owe or if we are due to receive a refund … it’s just a matter of how much … and we are happy that everything is completed once tax season is over. Things don’t typically go awry, but tax-related fraud does happen. Knowing how to lower your risk and knowing what to do if it does occur to you, will help prevent the lasting damages to your wallet and credit score.

 

Let’s say for this example that you will be receiving a refund. Imagine looking forward to getting that money so you can pay off those holiday bills or plan that special vacation you’ve been day-dreaming of (or perhaps both if you’re lucky). After preparing your taxes, you happily press “send.” But then WHAM! … your return is rejected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) because they already received one for you. How could that happen and what do you do if it does?

 

Tax identity theft is when someone uses a stolen Social Security number (SSN) to file a tax return. You may be wondering, “Why would someone want to do this if I will actually owe taxes?” Even if you aren’t expecting a refund, you are still at risk. Thieves can enter fake income using your SSN in order to trick the IRS into giving a refund but, instead of that money going to you, it is actually wired to the criminal’s account. Even though the IRS has made significant efforts to help stop fraud cases in their tracks in recent years, it still happens.

 

Is tax fraud preventable? No. Are there steps you can take to help reduce your risk? Yes.

 

– Time is of the essence. Prepare and file your return as quickly as possible before someone else does it for you.

 

– Protect your personal identifying information (PII) by: 1) shredding documents that you do not need for tax preparation; 2) keeping your SSN card in a safe deposit box; 3) taking any outgoing mail to your local post office (do not put any mail with PII in your own mailbox – even though federal mail theft is a felony, it still happens); 4) getting your mail as soon as possible after it is delivered; 5) not responding to a phone call asking for or requesting that you confirm any PII (the IRS and legitimate companies will not initiate contact with you for this information unless you have reached out to them first); 6) not opening email attachments or clicking on any links that are not familiar to you; and 7) keeping your personal devices on lockdown unless you are using them (utilize firewalls and keep your anti-virus protection software up-to-date).

 

– If you think your PII has already been compromised, consider putting a free fraud alert on your credit file. There are two options: 1) an initial fraud alert, which is free and will last 90 days or 2) an extended fraud alert, which can be $10 or more but can last up to seven years.

 

– Be aware of the latest scams. Read our blogs on the topic: New Year Scam 2020 Style and Scams, Scams and More Darn Scams

 

– Actively monitor your accounts. You can access your tax account history (and see if someone has already filed for you) at https://www.irs.gov/.

 

– Get a trustworthy tax preparer. There are people who pose as tax preparers as well as online filing services that may promise you a bigger refund and/or may make questionable deductions for you in order to increase their fee. If you are seeking professional help, make sure it is from a certified tax professional or certified public accountant.

 

If your tax return is rejected due to being a ‘duplicate,’ an Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) should be filed as soon as possible to let the IRS know that someone else is using your identity. Contact Guard Well’s Member Services at 1.888.966.GUARD (4827) immediately if needed. A team member is always available 24/7/365. You can also email us at memberservices@guardwellid.com. Happy filing!

 

 

New Year Scam 2020 Style

New Year Scam 2020 Style

It’s not just a new year … it’s a new decade. Not quite the ‘Age of Aquarius’ type of timestamp, but a new decade brings hope and positivity for our families and futures. It’s around this time in mid-January that many of us realize, “Hey, that exercise plan I agreed to do on January 1st at 12:06 am, that was just an example, not something I actually have to do on a daily or weekly basis and certainly not for the next ten years!” By the way, the same goes for those clean eating goals, too. If you can eat clean four or even five out of seven days, you’re likely in the bonus.

 

On average it takes about two months for a new behavior to become a habit (or if you are a supporter of the 21/90 rule, it may take a bit longer). Why is this a topic in our blog? Because how we write the year out today is going to have to break an old habit of abbreviating it, as many of us have done for the last nine years. The simple truth is that scammers are trying to forge our documents when we just write ’20’ instead of ‘2020.’

 

As reported by CNN’s Harmeet Kaur, “When the year 2020 is abbreviated on official forms and documents, those looking to exploit unsuspecting people can easily manipulate those numbers and leave people potentially vulnerable to fraud.” Auditors and police departments around the country have been notifying the public that when you write a date on a document, to not shorthand the year 2020 to just ’20.’ A document dated 1/4/20 can easily be changed to 1/4/2021 by adding two numbers at the end. Or, it could go the opposite way … a creditor could say you owed money from 2019 just by adding ’19’ after the ’20.’

 

Just putting forth a little effort in writing 2020 out in full, which will eventually become habit if done often enough, is a small step toward protecting you and your family from check or document fraud.

 

From the entire team at Guard Well, we wish you a wonderful, happy and prosperous 2020. If you suspect that fraud has happened to you, we are available 24/7/365 at 888.966.GUARD (4827) and memberservices@guardwellid.com.