Avoid being scammed: Don’t take ‘phishers’ bait

February 12, 2017 GMT

It’s tax season, and criminals are phishing for personal information in an attempt to land big refunds from the IRS illegally.

In particular, hackers are using emails and phone calls to scam people into giving them information to access not only tax refunds but also bank and credit card accounts.

Ernest Pringle, vice chancellor for information technology, and Joann Williamson, director of network systems, with USC Aiken’s Computer Services Division, said the IRS, banks and credit card companies will never call asking for personal information, including usernames and passwords.

“They shouldn’t be calling you,” Williamson said. “They will send you a letter, and you should call them.”

In a common IRS scam, a person receives a call from someone saying he or she is with the IRS and the person owes money and needs to make a wire transfer or give a credit care number to make the debt good, Williamson said.

“That’s starting to ramp up right now,” she said.

Williamson said her office also has received reports of people receiving fake emails from Microsoft tech support asking for access to their computers.

“Hackers and fake callers today are organized crime units and not individuals in remote locations working alone,” Williamson said. “The techniques they use to trick people seem a lot more authentic and are more difficult to distinguish from the real company they purport to be. Stay on guard for anyone who calls asking for personal information, account numbers, employee IDs, birthdates or access to your computer.”

Pringle said security experts report that 90 percent of data breeches occur through phishing or social engineering, using deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that can be used for fraudulent purposes.

“We all think of virus protection on our computers that protects our data. Well, hackers have gotten wise to that, and now they send out these phishing attempts where they fool the user to give them the information they need,” Pringle said. “Virus protection has gotten so good now that hackers don’t worry about it anymore. They’re trying to trick us into giving them our information, and they’re successful. They wouldn’t do it if they weren’t successful.”

To protect yourself from tax season and other phishing scams, Williamson and Pringle shared these tips:

• The IRS will never call someone. Even if someone owes money, the IRS will not call to let someone know. For more information, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts.

• A bank or credit card agency will not call to confirm an account number.

• Microsoft and other software companies will not call to alert about security issues with a computer. Microsoft also has a website about these scam attempts. For more information, visit bit.ly/2kIRc1y.

• For the the Better Business Bureau’s published listing of the “Top Scams of 2016” visit bit.ly/2knxKq3.