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Prevent Hackers From Stealing Your Tax Refund

Tax Return

It’s early on a Friday evening.  You happily bounded home from work, took your family out for a nice dinner, and sent the kids off to the high school basketball game.

You sit down at your computer, surrounded by the neat stacks of paper you carefully gathered throughout the week.  It’s time to file your taxes.

You’re pretty excited because you’ve already guesstimated a decent refund.  One that will pay for an enjoyable weeklong vacation on the beach this summer.

After about two hours answering questions and confirming your entries, you click the “File My Returns” button.  “Soon,” you smile to yourself, “my bank account will be a little fatter.”  Then you scurry off to watch TV.

Monday evening you check your email.  To your horror, the subject lines declares your tax return was rejected.

Curiosity and anger fill your mind as you carefully read the message.  The IRS says your tax return had already been filed and a refund deposited into your bank account.

Reality sets in:  your long-awaited tax refund has been stolen.

In 2013, nearly $6.5 billion in tax refunds were fraudulently paid out by the IRS.  Experts expect that number to grow to nearly $21 billion this year.

So how can you prevent cybercriminals from stealing money the government needs to return to you?  (After all, a tax refund is an interest-free loan you’ve made to the government by overpaying your taxes throughout the year.)

Protect your SSN

Your name and Social Security number are the only two items a thief needs to claim your refund.

This makes safeguarding your Social Security number so critically important.  You can do this by:

  1. Never carrying your Social Security card or any other document containing it on your physical person.
  2. Only giving out your Social Security number when it’s absolutely required. See this online article for information on who can lawfully request your Social Security Number:

Obtain An IRS IP PIN

Despite the obvious flaws in the government’s fraud-prevention systems, the IRS does provide certain individuals the ability to obtain an Identity Protection PIN.

This PIN is a six-digit number assigned to you that prevents someone else from using your Social Security number to file a federal tax return.  Note that it has no effect on state tax returns.

You’re eligible for an IRS Identity Protection PIN if you have been the victim of identity theft.  You can also obtain a PIN if the IRS mailed you a letter stating you can obtain one or if you filed your last year’s federal tax return with a Florida, Georgia or Washington, D.C. address.


File Your Taxes ASAP

The sooner you take the time to file your taxes, the less opportunity you give cybercriminals to file your taxes for you – and getting paid handsomely to do it!

Identity theft and the crimes committed as its result are an unfortunate, yet common, part of the online world in which we live.  I encourage you to be vigilant and to take the precautionary measures necessary to protect your personal information.

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3 Types of Tech Support Scams

How to Avoid Becoming A Victim

Early Wednesday afternoon, Jim called our office.

“I’ve got a message from Time Warner Cable on my computer screen telling me my computer is infected.  There’s an 800 number it’s saying I should call.  What should I do?” Jim curiously asked.

Later that evening, Phil called reporting the same message appeared on his wife’s laptop.

Both of these clients suspected something fishy and wisely called us before they clicked on anything or made a phone call to an unknown number.

Jim and Phil avoided becoming victims of one of three types of tech support scams that rake in over $1.3 BILLION dollars every year from unsuspecting computer users.


SCAM #1:

As you’re surfing the Internet for recipes, news, sports scores, or automobile parts, suddenly you’re taken to a website reporting your computer is full of viruses.  You’re instructed to “Call Computer Support” at a toll-free number to fix it.

Some websites or pop-ups even purport to be from your Internet Service Provider, like Time Warner Cable or Frontier Communictions.

These messages are fake.  Most likely your web browser – Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome – may have been hijacked.  Or you may have stumbled upon a compromised website.


  • NEVER, NEVER call the toll-free number or click a link listed on these pages.
  • Immediately close your web browser. If you are unable to close it by clicking the red X in the top right corner, shut off your computer.
  • Perform a full system scan with your antivirus software to make sure nothing malicious got silently installed on your computer. It may be wise to contact your trusted computer professional, like Jim called me, and have them perform a thorough virus scan on your PC.


It’s difficult to avoid this type of scam, but you can reduce its likelihood by:

  • Only visiting websites you know and trust
  • Installing the AdBlockPlus extension on your web browser (
  • Using a web filtering software, like our Managed Web Protection, that prevents you from going to harmful websites


SCAM #2:

Telemarketers are annoying.  It’s even worse when it’s “Alex from Microsoft” calling and demanding you give him access to your computer because it’s infected.

I’ve talked to many people in our community who surprisingly follow the instructions from these people they don’t know, let them into their computers, and even give them their credit card numbers.  Only to realize later that they’ve been scammed.

Let me be clear:  NONE of the big name companies will EVER call you to tell you your computer is infected and that they need to fix it.  NEVER.  Not Microsoft, not Time Warner, not Norton.


  • Hang up the phone!
  • Don’t argue with them. Don’t ask them to never call back.  Simply hang up.
  • Some scammers will persistently call you back just to annoy you. Either let the phone ring or keep hanging up on them.  Eventually they’ll stop calling.


SCAM #3:

Scammers willingly spend thousands of dollars on advertisements on popular search engines – like Google, Yahoo and Bing (MSN) – knowing some people will believe their false messages that promote to speed up your slow computer or provide support.

Victims who click on such ads get duped into paying $149.99 or some similar amount for an unknown tech support company to resolve the supposed computer problems.

It would be wise to remember: Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.


  • Ignore such advertisements. What you “save” will end up costing you significantly more to fix what these scammers “repair.”
  • Rely only on local computer professionals where you can visit their physical store and talk to them in person.

Using common sense is the best defense in not becoming a victim to these sneaky, smart scammers.