It’s tax season and every year around this time, thieves and hackers tend to step up their “game” as they know that personal information and data will be exchanged between people and their tax preparers.  If you’re not a business that handles tax returns (other than your own), you might believe hackers wouldn’t target you for an attack. But once you understand what they’re really after, it’s easy to see why they might be lured by any business that stores records on employees and clients.

What hackers want.  Currently, all anyone needs to file a tax return is a name and Social Security number. A hacker who can get into your system now has hundreds or even thousands of Social Security numbers at their disposal.

What they do with it. Some of the most common tax scams involve stolen refunds. In other words, hackers obtain Social Security numbers of taxpayers, file fraudulent returns, and claim refunds for themselves.

This is a particularly unfortunate situation for the taxpayers, who learn only after filing their returns that someone else has already claimed their refund. Even worse, they now face significant obstacles when trying to clear up the matter with the IRS and to protect their information in future years.

Yes, a hacker who gains access to sensitive data might file a number of returns and claim the refund money for themselves. Or, more commonly, they sell the information on the black market so that other criminals can utilize the information in the same way. Now another party, or many parties, are involved in the scam.

What you can do to protect yourself and your customers. In many cases, it is prudent to simply avoid storing Social Security numbers. You need them for your employees, of course, but rarely is it truly necessary to keep customer numbers on file.

Medicare even transitioned away from using Social Security numbers, and re-issued a new identification number and card to every beneficiary. The idea was to address this growing problem within healthcare provider networks.

You could also store this information in one machine only, used for payroll and other vital tasks, that does not access the network.

Otherwise, if you do need to store sensitive data such as Social Security numbers, make sure you regularly review and update all network security protocol. With tax season underway and cyber attacks on the rise, give us a call at 888-RING-MY-TECH if you have any questions about internet security and data storage protocol.