Guarding Your Grades and Your Green: Navigating Cybersecurity Threats During Tax Season”

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During tax time, students face a unique set of cybersecurity risks that can compromise their personal and financial information. These risks stem from the increasing sophistication of cybercriminals who exploit the tax season to perpetrate scams and fraud. Here are the primary cybersecurity concerns for students during this period:

  1. Phishing Scams: Cybercriminals often send emails or texts posing as the IRS or tax preparation services. These messages may ask students to provide personal information, click on malicious links, or download attachments infected with malware. The goal is to steal personal and financial information or infect devices with malware.
  2. Fake Tax Preparation Services: Some fraudsters set up fake tax preparation websites or services to lure students into submitting their tax information. These sites can look remarkably professional and convincing but are designed to harvest sensitive data.
  3. Wi-Fi Eavesdropping: Students often use public Wi-Fi networks to access the internet, which can be insecure. Hackers can intercept data transmitted over these networks, including tax-related information, if students are not using a secure connection.
  4. Social Engineering Attacks: These involve manipulating individuals into divulging confidential information. For example, a scammer might impersonate a tax professional or a representative from the financial aid office to extract sensitive information from students.
  5. Malware and Ransomware: During tax season, there’s an uptick in malware and ransomware attacks designed to steal data or lock users out of their devices until a ransom is paid. Malicious software can be inadvertently downloaded from email attachments or malicious websites.
  6. Identity Theft: With access to a student’s personal information, cybercriminals can commit identity theft, filing fraudulent tax returns in the student’s name to steal tax refunds.

Preventive Measures:

  • Knowledge is Power: Students should know about the common scams and attacks during tax season. Stay in touch with our IT Security Blog to learn more about recognizing and avoiding suspicious emails, links, and tax scams.
  • Use Secure Connections: Submit tax returns and access sensitive information over secure, private networks. Encourage the use of VPNs when using public Wi-Fi.
  • Secure Personal Devices: Ensure your devices are protected with updated antivirus software, firewalls, and that you apply all necessary security patches.
  • Strong Passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Use strong, unique passwords and the activation of MFA for all accounts related to tax filing and financial transactions.
  • Verify Tax Preparation Services: Verify the legitimacy of tax preparation services by checking their credentials and looking for reviews or complaints online.
  • Protect Personal Information: Students should be cautious about sharing personal information, especially in response to unsolicited communications. The IRS never contacts taxpayers via email, text messages, or social media to request personal or financial information.

By understanding and addressing these risks, students can better protect themselves against the cybersecurity threats that proliferate during tax season. Implementing these preventive measures can significantly reduce the chances of falling victim to these scams and ensure a safer tax filing process.

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Associate Vice President for IT, CISO, Fordham University

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