Privacy, Taxes, and Electronic Documents

Welcome to tax season, or some might call it scammer season. More and more of tax prep starts online now, from emailed documents to filing. I wanted to share how to stay safe when it comes to online privacy, taxes, and electronic documents.

Privacy, Taxes, and Electronic Documents

I always consider it a privilege to be welcome in your inbox. I had to re-publish this with a little more important information, so please forgive the earlier email last week with the non-working link. 

Privacy, Taxes, and Electronic Documents

Remember that your tax preparer, the IRS, your bank, the Social Security Administration (SSA), insurance companies, and other legitimate businesses will never call you or email you to ask for sensitive information out of the blue.

As annoying as they are, you should be only responding to requests that include two-factor authentication challenges. I wrote about 2FA not long ago and explained how there are many different versions of this. The main thing to remember is that NONE of the 2FA challenges will ask you for personal info, like your birthdate or your bank balance.

When in doubt, don’t respond to an email, and look up the number to call the agency/merchant you believe might have sent you an email or electronic statement. Don’t call a phone number from an email you think might be spam, since that could connect you with a scammer’s call center. Better to talk with a person directly at an agency number you find in your files or on a web search.

How to Spot a Phishing Email

You think you’ve seen it all, but scammers are always trying something new to get your attention. And especially now that so many legitimate documents that you might need for your tax filings are sent by email, let’s use this example to learn to tell the difference.

malicious email

There are several reasons you can tell this isn’t legit.

  • It took me a second to notice, but there’s a mis-spelling right in the subject line. “Elecontrinic” isn’t a thing. Typos are usually your first clue.
  • My company name is also mis-spelled, or at least truncated.
  • I don’t have any recollection of this company name.
  • The attachment references salary which, as a self-employed person, I don’t have. If the email doesn’t make sense, don’t open it, don’t click the links, and don’t open any attachments.
  • The message is marked high priority, which legit companies generally don’t do. (After all, my priority isn’t your priority. It’s considered bad email etiquette to use that for attention.)
  • There’s no message or salutation in the email body. There’s only an attachment.
  • If I were to PREVIEW the attachment, I would only see a QR code, which is a way to connect to the email sender, and how the scammer would start a conversation or start asking me for personal info.

There are waaaay too many red flags to do anything more than delete this email.

Delete, delete, delete.

How to Check if Emails Are Legitimate

But what if you just weren’t sure if this email were legitimate? What else could you do?

On a computer, you can hover a mouse over the email address. Often, you can tell right away that it’s no good, if it has an email like “offshorepirates.com.” Yes, sometimes they are that obvious. If it looks potentially legit, you can visit the URL posted. In this case, “hips-llc.com” appears to be a real company if you visit their website. But be careful, as you might end up on a scammer’s website, which will say YOU HAVE A VIRUS!!!! CALL US FOR HELP!!! Just close that window and go on about your day.

You can also PREVIEW your email attachment, which doesn’t download it to your computer, keeping your computer safe (for now).

The best thing to do is just delete the email, but you can also report it as spam or junk to your email provider, usually with a mouse right click. I get a dozen of these every day.

Just a note…your computer (both PC and Mac) should definitely have an anti-virus/malware program like MalwareBytes, Avast, Norton, or any one of the big names. Your phone and tablet don’t (yet) need that type of program.

Tax Docs Sent by Email

Yes, many tax documents are now sent by email. Companies are acquired by other companies and change their names, so it does make it hard to keep track sometimes. Before you open any email attachments, ask yourself,

Am I expecting this document?

Does it seem to be from the right company?

Is it free of all the red flags bulleted above?

Even if the answers to all those questions are yes, instead of clicking on a link or attachment, you might prefer to log into your online account for an employer or financial institution and download it safely.

Help Your Parents Avoid Fraudsters

As they say, sharing is caring. Anyone can be scammed at any age, but the fact is that many older folks are very vulnerable to online fraud and manipulation. You can always offer to have your parents forward you any email that they feel uncomfortable with. In the best case scenario, you can teach them what to avoid or ignore. Or share the information about scams found on the Social Security Administration site. You and they don’t need to live in fear and you shouldn’t abandon email, either, which legitimate businesses use every day.

Privacy Advocate

As a photo manager and digital organizer, I invested time and money into the Privacy Advocate certificate late last year. Privacy and online safety isn’t an accident. If you have questions about your privacy, security, and electronic documents and aren’t sure who to ask, I’ll be happy to help if you reach out to me and my team.

TPM Privacy Advocate Badge 2023

 

 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Melanie Duff

    Great article, Darla, thank you!

    Congratulations on becoming a Security Advocate👏! You’re always full of difficult to come by information & tips!❤️

    1. Darla

      Thanks for reading, Melanie. I appreciate you.

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