Friday, 25 July 2014 08:52

It's tax time, so beware of scams


The move towards online tax returns is not without risks, says a security vendor. But some simple steps can help keep your information safe.

Bitdefender chief security strategist Catalin Cosoi recommends a security check before submitting online tax returns.

Top of his list is thinking twice before using public Wi-Fi.

"Free Wi-Fi hotspots can be tricky and, in Australia, they have lately multiplied like jellyfish," Mr Cosoi said.

"To submit tax returns, shop or bank online, these are really not the best places to connect to the Internet. Hackers and petty cyber-thieves may easily intercept credit card numbers, name, address and other personal details they use for identity theft."

Using a trustworthy VPN connection would improve security in these circumstances, but generally we would go along with Mr Cosoi's recommendation.

Then there's the matter of password policies.

"Tax season marks a good opportunity to reinforce password security and create strong credentials for the tax return account. Passwords should be changed regularly and not be reused for social media accounts, e-mail and the tax return app," he said.

If your password is on a list like this, it's time to change it. Such lists also provide some guidance about practices to avoid, such as strings of characters that appear sequentially on a keyboard, repetitions of a single character, and passwords based on company or product names.

And as Bitdefender reminds us, the ACCC and ATO recently warned individuals and businesses about email and phone-based frauds involving bogus tax refunds.

"$300,000 has been reported lost to all reclaim scams to the ACCC this year and we have received 6,000 complaints. Of these, 270 people reported the tax reclaim scam to the ACCC with over $10,000 lost," said ACCC acting chair Delia Rickard.

Bitdefender also warns of the possibility of fake MyTax apps, so make sure you follow the ATO's instructions and don't trust links from anywhere else on the web (which is why we're not providing one).

The company's infographic on the subject can be seen here.

To those of you who are tempted to suggest there's nothing new here and that Bitdefender's advice is simply good practice, good for you. The problem is that there are still a lot of people around who aren't as security-conscious as you.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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