Tax season is here: How to protect yourself from cybercriminals

By Janice Roberts

Tax season has begun and whilst many of us can’t wait for our refunds – this is also a time of the year when cybercriminals are waiting to attack. Whilst we have become wiser to email spams and scams, cybercriminals are, however, in the perfect position to “fine tune” their attacks. If one doesn’t work, they simply adapt, improve and spam it out again, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET South Africa.

Spear-phishing attacks use personal information to convince people they are legitimate – and are far slicker and more convincing than poorly spelt spam emails comedians used to laugh about.

Worried you’re being phished? Look at the bait

Look at who the email is from.  It’s possible to fake any email address, but not all phishers are this clever – they may use a random email address that gives the game away. Check the link that you’re supposed to click by hovering your mouse over it to display a pop-up message with the real link in it. Look closely. Does the address make sense? If any alarm bells start to ring, don’t click.

Tax returns, invoices, wedding invitations – cybercriminals use them all

To a cybercriminal, nothing is sacred – wedding invitations, invoices and tax returns are all commonly used tactics. Always think hard before opening any attachment – even ones that seem to come from friends.  Is it surprising that SARS are asking you to refile your tax returns? If so, don’t click.

Be extra careful around short URLs

If there isn’t a cap on the number of letters, why has someone shortened the link? You cannot take it for granted that URL shortening services are redirecting you to trustworthy websites.

Telephone numbers are not a guarantee an email is real

Do not trust professional looking emails where there is a phone contact number – this can be another cybercriminal trick. The number may well work, but you will be connected to a scammer instead of the company you’re hoping to speak to – and they will attempt to fool you into handing over further details.

Don’t auto-load images

Leave your email messages so your images aren’t automatically downloaded – otherwise you could be sending a signal to spammers. Images are often stored on the spammer’s servers and can be unique to your email. By turning on pictures in an email your computer downloads the images from the spammer’s servers, showing that you exist.

Is SARS really calling

It’s doubtful SARS will be calling you and they definitely are not going to offer any sort of gift card for filing early. If you get weird emails or phone calls, ignore them or hang up.

Encryption is the only way to go

Lastly, if you file online look for encrypted websites. Make sure the website your visiting has HTTPS in front of the URL. Typically, it will have a green or grey lock showing it’s a secure connection. The last thing you want to do is share your extremely private information associated with taxes unless you’re on an encrypted website.


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