It’s tax season – and the cyber criminals are out. Carey van Vlaanderen of ESET Southern Africa has some advice about how to avoid falling into their clutches (the cybercrooks, that is, not SARS).

Have you seen emails pretending to come from South African Revenue Services (SARS) – the ones that lead you to infected websites or that try to lure you into opening infected attachments?  Have you heard of scammers filling your taxes for you and trying to get your refund?

In South Africa, tax season means high risk for many people.  Cyber criminals perform phishing attacks on the SARS website, send fake refund advice to potential victims and take the tax refund themselves, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO, ESET Southern Africa.

How hard is it to tell if an email or text message is truly from SARS?

If there are any words spelt incorrectly, this is a sign that it is more than likely a fake email.  If you do read the message, it will ask you to open an attachment.  The attachment is a file that will, if you click on it, infect your computer with malware.  This malware could make your computer a part of a botnet used for denial of service attacks or spamming, or it could steal your credentials for sale on the black market.

Why do criminals keep sending such messages?

Because they work.  There are still people who have not heard of these scams or are so eager to get their tax refund that they ignore their better judgement.On top of this, is the sad fact that a lot of people still don’t use good “anti” software, namely anti-virus, anti-spam and anti-phishing (you can often get all three of these rolled into one with products like ESET Smart Security).  Using security software stops these types of attacks at multiple levels:

  • Blocking emails known to be fraudulent;
  • Blocking links in emails to web pages that are known to be infected;
  • Blocking downloading of attachments containing malware;
  • Blocking execution of malware that has been downloaded.

What is the safest way to file my taxes?

Use a reputable tax consultant, preferably one referred by a trusted friend who has used them in the past. Sadly, even this is no guarantee that you won’t become tax identity theft victim.

What problems can occur if I am a victim of tax identity fraud?

You could potentially find SARS asking you to return money that it paid out in your name to a scam artist, and it might take you a long time to resolve the issue.

When are tax fraud problems at their worst?

There are some “hotspots” in online tax fraud, notably the opening weeks of filing season when scammers can submit returns with fake information.  However, the fact that businesses and professionals pay taxes throughout the year in the form of estimated payments make tax identity fraud a profitable year-round criminal endeavour.

What are some other scams around tax time?

The rule that “if something is too good to be true, it is”  applies here.  Remember, if you fall for these scams, you will still have to pay once you get caught, regardless of what bad advice you got.

* ESET Southern Africa is  a global provider of security software for enterprises and consumers whose products offer comprehensive protection against evolving computer security threats.