by Richard Allen, EA, AFSP
I have recently heard about new scams related to the Corona Virus emergency. There are numerous callers or email senders masquerading as IRS employees or Social Security employees.
These scenarios are similar. The caller, text sender or email sender says they are from the IRS or Social Security Administration and need to get some personal information in order to send out the $1,200 or $2,400 Stimulus payment. They want to know a variety of information: Social Security Number, birth date, bank account number and bank routing number. Obviously, the are trying to get enough information to steal the recipient’s identity or bank account balance.
A few more words about scammers. As accountants and tax practitioners we see scams from two sides.
• Our clients get scammers who are targeting them because of their age and/or lack of computer savvy, or
• We get these scammers because we are prime targets. Our records hold many clients’ key identification information. Almost daily, I receive emails from unknown parties supposedly sending me information needed to complete their tax return. Or asking me to take them on as a client.
What can we do about these situations?
• I always tell me clients to call me if anything significant or unusual occurs. I would rather have them make a short call to me, than to try to deduct their identity theft loss later on. Many do call me. A few do not call, and then have to live with their own mistakes.
• We can do several things to lessen potential problems and to protect ourselves. Here are a few things accountants and tax practitioners can do to protect themselves.
1. Use at least one good antivirus software. Keep it up to date.
2. Back up your client data files daily. And know how to restore your files from backup.
3. Keep your client data files on a different computer system than your own personal, banking and financial records. My wife surfs on the internet and checks emails on her Kindle, but she uses her Chromebook for getting financial records.
4. Don’t reply to emails, and phone calls from unknown parties. I have most of my contacts listed on my phone. If I get a call from someone else, I let it go to voicemail. If the unknown caller does not lease a message, that number will get blocked by me.
5. Watch emails carefully. The sender is hoping that you click on a PDF file or a certain web location. Clicking on an unknown object could release a virus (often referred to as a “Trojan Horse”). A different variation is to release a keylogger program which can secretly record the strokes on your keyboard and send that information back to them.
6. Watch for “giveaways” in the incoming email.
a. These often come from another country where English is a second language. Their phrases in the email looks a little “funny”.
b. They are looking for a response to an urgent situation, possibly telling you that your account will be closed unless you respond immediately.
c. They may be coming from a name deliberately misspelled (Mlcrosoft for Microsoft), using an accent mark on a vowel, or may look like it is coming from a trusted source. Remember, it is easy for them to cut and paste logos from a trusted website.
7. Use several e-mail addresses. One for email from your clients, another for email with your tax and accounting friends, a third for email from personal friends and family, and lastly a fourth one for ordering merchandise or paying utility bills on the internet (those are likely to generate a lot of junk emails).
8. Use a sophisticated e-mail program. I use Microsoft Outlook generally when I scan emails from unknown parties. Outlook can be configured to show the actual email address from a sender, rather than just showing who the say they are.
9. Watch for emails coming from other countries. Google “internet country codes” to see a list of them, including “cn” (for China), and “ru” (for Russia).
10. Watch for emails coming from free email sites like gmail, yahoo, hotmail, or from schools or universities. These sites do not verify who the sender is. Anyone can set up an account there and send out fictitious emails. More trustworthy sites are from internet service providers such as comcast which verify that the sender has an account there.
If you have any other suggestions for protecting yourselves and your friends and clients, please send it to us at email@example.com.
The Independent Accountants Association of Illinois will continue to send out updates to these issues as they become available for the duration of this emergency