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Cyber scams to watch out for during tax season

Cyber criminals are always on the hunt for your personal data. Tax season increases their opportunities to steal from Canadians, since more people are active online, filing their taxes and sharing private information. For a cyber criminal, the incentive of getting an address, phone number or even a social insurance number (SIN) from someone filing their taxes is huge.  This means they will put in extra effort to trick you and steal your information.

Cyber criminals are looking for a big payoff at tax season, which means you can’t go small when thinking about your cyber security. Here are a few tax-related cyber scams to watch out for during tax season this year.

Phishing

Phishing scams are one of the most common threats that you will encounter online. They are especially popular around tax season. Phishing involves cyber criminals trying to steal your personal and financial information by pretending to be someone they’re not.

A phishing scam could be an email or text that seems to be from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) or another legitimate source but really is a scammer trying to get you to take the bait. The phishing message might say there’s an issue with your claim or that you’re receiving a larger return than you expect and tell you to click on a link or open an attachment. Doing so could result in you downloading malware or accidentally sending your personal information to a cyber criminal.

This year, many phishing scams have involved the Canadian emergency response benefit (CERB) and its payments. Many Canadians relied on these relief payments during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic and are now claiming that income on their tax returns. If a CERB program applied to you, check official resources, such as the CRA’s website, to confirm how to file your taxes appropriately.

If you receive a message or phone call that seems off, don’t panic. Contact the CRA by using their official contact information to confirm the legitimacy of the request.  

Spear phishing

Spear phishing is similar to regular phishing, but it’s hyper-targeted. This means that scammers will take information about you that they find online and use it to make their phishing attempt seem even more believable.

When it comes to taxes, spear phishing could be used to make a tax-related phishing attack even trickier to spot. A cyber criminal who found some personal information about you online will use that information to make their message specific to you. They may know your full name, employer, date of birth, address or another piece of data to make their message seem more real.  Even if a message contains real information about you, it’s important to always verify links and downloads before you click on them. If you don’t, your digital identity  could be compromised or your device infected with malware.

Spoofing

Spoofing is another way that cyber criminals try to take your personal data. They do this by duplicating a legitimate source, like a website or email address. This tactic is sometimes used in phishing scams. A cyber criminal may include a fake website link in their phishing email, and that link will lead to a lookalike version of the website you think you’re going to. For example, you may think that you’re on a CRA website but it’s actually a spoof designed to get you to enter your personal information, which cyber criminals will then steal.

If you use an online service to file your taxes, make sure that the program and any related links are legitimate before downloading or running any programs and software. You can confirm whether your tax software is legitimate by looking at the CRA’s list of certified tax software. Verify that the site you’re visiting is correct by typing the address into your search bar instead of clicking on a link. Never download an attachment or visit a URL that seems suspicious.

Like with other scams, being cautious is crucial to avoid becoming a victim of spoofing. Even if a website looks legitimate, take the time to look it over. It’s much harder to recover from a data breach than it is to protect yourself from one. If you suspect that you or someone you know has fallen victim to a cyber scam, don’t hesitate to contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to report it.

Conclusion

It’s always important to watch out for cyber scams but during times like tax season, it’s especially important. Phishing, spear-phishing and spoofing are all ways that cyber criminals try and access your data and steal your identity or your money. Stay alert and always confirm that emails, websites and links are legitimate before you use them. This can protect you against tax-related scams.  

Need more information? Check out this page from the CRA with more info about scams and how you can report any that you may come across. 

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