Double Check, Triple Check

In times of crisis, cybercriminals know how to take advantage of our generosity with online scams. They come in all shapes and forms. You need to double check and triple check every email you get requesting money or action, and you need to do the same for every link you have an impulse to click.

At this point, I think we’re all sophisticated and careful enough to take a close look at the emails we get. We know to hover over a name we know to see the email address from where the message was sent. You know, for example, that you likely won’t get an email from me generated from a service in Russia – and you know to call me to see if I really did send you an email from a Russian address. You’ve got to step up your vigilance. Don’t be afraid to question anything – and never open an email or click a link in an email if are not completely sure it’s legit. A cybercriminal can use the link you click or the file you download to get into your computer and hold your data for ransom or steal vital personal or corporate financial data.

This is important because you can expect a lot of emails from people and organizations purporting to be charities to help victims of the Covid-19 crisis and hardship from civil unrest. There are many good, legitimate organizations helping good causes, but there are bad ones, too. While a specific “charity” may not plant a virus or ransomware in your computer, they will get your credit card info (bet they didn’t offer a mailing address to send a check), which they can sell many times over on the dark web.

This goes beyond email. We’re too click happy when it comes to news and entertainment sites, clicking away at any headline or teaser that sparks our interest. In our time of crisis, news sites get our attention, especially if there’s something outrageous regardless of whether it supports our beliefs or not. Aside from whether it’s true and from a reliable news source, it could also be a way for a cybercriminal to hijack your computer. The same goes for pop-ups on less-than-reputable websites.

We’re getting a lot of calls to clean up infected computers, and one incident illustrates the problem. After we cleaned a client’s computer of a problem generated by clicking on a questionable site, the client immediately clicked another piece of clickbait and had an immediately re-infected computer. We all need to use good judgment when we click on something we find – or something sent by a friend.

You can further protect yourself by making you have up-to-date antivirus and malware software installed and running on your computer. We also recommend you regularly check for updates for all your application software and hardware firmware and make sure you install and run them. We can help you with fixing problems and preventing them. Turn off your computers or technology infrastructure if you find something behaving strangely or performing slowly and call us – 973-433-6676. Call us or email us if you need help with selecting, installing or updating antivirus or malware protection software and to set up an automated system to handle software and firmware updates.

Tax Season: The Next Scam Season

I don’t know whether more money changes hands during the holiday shopping season or during tax season, but a lot is at stake between now and April 17 as people prepare tax returns. It’s a busy time of year for scammers, most of whom want to use fraudulent information to get your tax return money.

Probably one of the most common scams is someone calling from the IRS to say you owe back taxes. This happens every year and all year long, too. But there’s just one thing we want to remind you about, even if you know it: The IRS does not contact you by phone. Nor does the IRS contact you by email, a form of communications a scammer will use in a phishing expedition. The IRS sends you a letter.

The other scams you are likely to encounter are calls or emails from people or companies offering to prepare your tax returns and even provide you with an advance on your refund. The email scams are more insidious because if you click on a link, it could automatically trigger a breach of your computer that reveals sensitive information. If you follow through on a phone call or link, the scammer is going to request your Social Security number and other info that goes on a tax return. If the scammer is offering to advance you money from an expected refund, they’ll want your banking info, too. Once a scammer has this and other personal information, it’s easy to get credit cards and loans and commit crimes in your name.

From a computing point of view, we again remind you not to open emails from people you don’t know who offer help during the tax season. Delete them immediately. Do the same with an email from someone you know that seems out of context because it’s so easy to spoof an email address. For example, would you really expect Norman Rosenthal or Sterling Rose to prepare your taxes?

You can protect business and home networks and computers by making sure you have new, strong passwords for all networks and accounts. Strong passwords are long and contain a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numerals and special characters. With the breach at Equifax, the risk of fraud is higher, and one of the problems it can lead to is that someone will file your tax return before you do.

With protection in place, you can use the internet for all of your tax-related activity, starting with IRS’s official website In addition to being able to get tax forms and answers to questions, you’ll find links to help you find and verify information about tax preparers, including 10 tips for choosing one.

If you are preparing your own taxes, we recommend you use one of the established software providers to reduce your risk of a security breach, especially when you file online.

While we don’t prepare taxes, we can help you keep your networks and computers secure. Call us – 973-433-6676 – if you think your system may have been compromised. Call us or email us if you have any questions about system security or security settings for any software you use for tax preparation and filing.