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Each year, about half of U.S. taxpayers rely on a tax preparer and a tax preparation service to help them file their required tax returns. These professionals offer a wide array of options, from a very simple franchise that plugs in the numbers on the consumer’s behalf to certified public accountants that know the ins and outs of the entire U.S. tax code. From accounting firms to walk-in services like H&R Block, TurboTax/Intuit, Credit Karma or Jackson Hewitt, these tax preparation services often have one major similarity: they are a hot target for hackers and identity thieves.

Trusting an outsider with highly-sensitive personal data is not something that people should take lightly. Having a professional take responsibility for the paperwork, helping to navigate the annual changes to tax laws and even assisting in the event of an IRS audit are all reason enough to pay someone to take care of the filing. However, the sheer volume of personally identifiable information (PII) that a tax preparer must collect and store means there are literal treasure troves of identities waiting to be compromised by a malicious actor.

There are plenty of ways that stolen PII from a tax preparation service can benefit a hacker. First, accessing a stolen return not only means the hacker can file the return for themselves and steal any refunds the consumer was expecting, it also means having the ability to file a fraudulent return every year. Hackers can cause even more harm with information gleaned from a tax preparer’s computer; credential stuffing is another major concern, as the complete information they might steal can be used to access the victim’s other accounts.

There are some important steps that consumers can take to protect themselves when using a tax preparation service. First, people should only choose a professional tax preparer who has a valid IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), but also understand that there are many different services, ability-levels and offerings that a professional can provide. It is also important for a consumer to find out what the preparer’s credentials are—such as having an accounting degree or being a member of a professional organization—before signing on to work with them. Consumers should not hesitate to ask what information the preparer will be able to access, how that information will be stored and for how long, who will be able to access that information and other related questions. There have been many situations where tax preparation services and professionals have been the target of malicious actors and understanding how they are going to safeguard information is just as important as their capabilities.

More guidelines from the IRS are available, but consumers are also cautioned to begin using a nine to ten character passphrase in place of the traditional eight-character password. A passphrase is longer and easier to remember, which makes it both harder for fraudsters to guess and more likely that consumers will deploy a different passphrase for each account.

If someone falls victim to identity theft from a data breach, they can live-chat with an Identity Theft Resource Center expert advisor through the organization’s website, as well as call toll-free at 888.400.5530 for an action plan that is customized to their needs. The free ID Theft Help App for iOS and Android also provides a number of resources for consumers to use in the event of a data breach or suspected identity theft.


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A recent Google Alert scam has caught the attention of many. Google Alerts recently caught fraudsters trying to push fake data breach notifications for big-name companies in an effort to distribute malware and damage people’s computer networks. According to Bleeping Computer, fraudsters have been mixing black-hat SEO, Google sites and spam pages to direct users to dangerous locations based on data breach information.

Google Alerts is designed to send notifications to people who sign up for specific keywords monitoring and provide search results. As part of this Google Alert scam, fraudsters were able to create pages and use compromising websites to combine “data breach” with well-known brands. Bleeping Computer reports that some of those well-known brands include Chegg, Canva, EA, Dropbox, Hulu, Shein, Ceridian, PayPalTarget, Hautelook, Mojang, InterContinental Hotel Group and Houzz.

In the Google Alerts, fraudsters offer giveaways and download offers, which leads to the dangerous malware. The threat actors are also believed to have used the Google Sites tool to build webpages to host their content. Bleeping Computer says they found that the scammers were pushing unwanted search-related extensions. As part of the Google Alert scam, malicious links were also believed to be sent to people with an iPhone 11 device for a fake giveaway. It claimed to be set up by Google as part of a “Membership Rewards Program” and the offer said the gift was “exclusively and only for Verizon Fios users.” Users had to fill out a survey, allowing scammers to get their money. Browser extension scams can pose a risk to browsing privacy because malware can be used as part of this method.

Consumers who use Google Alerts should be aware of this particular scam; going directly to the source (the purported breached entity) instead of clicking on an unknown link. The Identity Theft Resource Center has been tracking publicly-notified data breaches since 2005 and has the most comprehensive and the most readily available data breach information for publicly-notified breaches. For any consumer that wants to fact check about the latest information regarding a publicly reported breach is encouraged to access our resources to confirm any new circumstances. Consumers can sign up for the monthly data breach newsletter, as well as view monthly and yearly data breach reports. They can also receive a “risk score” on what their true concerns should be by visiting Breach Clarity and entering the particular breach on which they would like information. Anyone who believes they might have fallen victim to a Google Alert scam can live-chat with an ITRC expert advisor, or can call toll-free at 888.400.5530. They can also download the free ID Theft Help App. The app will provide consumers and victims access to advisors, resources, a case log to track their steps and much more.


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A recent data breach of Verifications.io, a company that approves or verifies email addresses for third-parties, exposed 763 million consumer records. Verifications.io ensures third-parties’ email marketing campaigns are being sent out to verified accounts, and not just fake emails. The unsecured database discovered online by two security researchers did not contain things like passwords or Social Security numbers; however, it did contain an assortment of data points like mortgage amounts, interest rates on loans and social media email logins, along with identifiers like gender and birthdate.

There have been almost 7.7 billion compromised accounts since data breach tracking began in 2013. The total number of compromised data sets listed on Have I Been Pwned?, a security website that lets users see if their identifying information has been exposed, now exceeds the total number of people on Earth.

The real question that the researchers and Troy Hunt, founder of Have I Been Pwned?, want to know is how Verifications.io got its hands on all of this information in the first place. The Estonian-based company has refused to respond to questions from different news outlets and has taken down its entire website as of March 4, 2019. In fact, Hunt has publicly asked for the data breach victims’ help via Twitter. What are you supposed to do when the company that comes under attack had your information without your direct permission? If you can identify your email address compromised in the data breach and used it uniquely (i.e. for one service), researchers are asking that you contact them so they can try to track the path of data sharing.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: The How and Why of Tax Identity Theft