-Greg Touhill, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Cybersecurity and Communications
With the April 15 deadline approaching, millions of Americans are finalizing the preparation and filing of their taxes. Unfortunately, tax season is a busy time for cyber criminals and scammers as well. Tax-refund fraud is a serious and fast-growing problem.
Tax-refund fraud happens when a cyber criminal steals someone’s personal information to file a fake tax return and to claim that individual’s the refund. To file a tax return online, they only need a name, date of birth, and a Social Security Number.
Cyber criminals are constantly searching for Social Security Numbers and other personal information that they can leverage for fraudulent purposes. Because identify theft and tax-refund fraud often starts long before tax season, it’s important to protect your personal and financial information year round.
Here are some tips to protect yourself and your loved ones from tax-refund fraud:
- Don’t give out your personal information, unless it is to a trusted entity. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages, or social media to request personal or financial information. If you receive an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, do not click on any links or reply. Instead, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org and delete it from your inbox.
- Look out for phony messages or websites claiming to be from the IRS or tax preparation services. Exercise caution when opening suspicious email attachments and do not click on web links in unsolicited email messages. Scammers who try to access your personal or financial information may use the IRS name or logo in email messages and on fake websites to lure potential victims.
- Beware of promises of “free money” from inflated refunds. Scammers frequently pose as tax preparers during tax season. If you are contacted by someone who promises a large tax refund or a refund you are not expecting, do not give out any personal or financial information. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Back up your data and store your electronic tax files securely. Last year, most Americans opted to file their taxes online. When preparing your tax return for electronic filing, make sure to use a strong password. If you are working with an accountant, ask them what security measures they have in place to protect your personal information.
- Only share personal information over a secured network. Criminals increasingly are using free public Wi-Fi and poorly secured network access points to intercept and steal information. Even if you are at home and logging into to a wireless network, make sure you only join a properly secured password-protected network. For all my financial transactions I don’t connect if the network is publicly available and recommend you consider similar precautions. Remember: using free public Wi-Fi makes it easy for cyber criminals to intercept and steal your information. Never prepare your tax return or conduct other online activities such as banking and shopping when connected to an unsecured wireless network.
If you believe you have been the victim of tax-refund fraud, contact the IRS. If you have been a victim of identity theft in general, report such incidents to the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, or to the FTC Identity Theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338.
Everyone must play their part in order to stay safe online during tax season and all year round. To learn more about how to protect your information during tax season, visit: www.irs.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection.
For additional general cyber tips and resources, visit www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect.
April 15th rapidly is approaching. Best of luck as you safely and securely file your taxes this year!
PHOTO OF THE WEEK: At NYPD Headquarters in New York City, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced that more than $1.6 billion will be available to help communities and first responders prevent terrorism and secure our transportation systems, ports and borders through the nine FY 2015 DHS preparedness grant programs.
Official DHS Photo by Jetta Disco | Download High-Resolution Image (3200x4800)
Earlier this month, federal, state, and local law enforcement along with first responder agencies in San Diego participated in simulated radiological and nuclear threat situations associated with small maritime vessels. Deploying protocols and procedures that would occur in a real incident, law enforcement were able to practice detecting and identifying radiological and nuclear material using human portable handheld and backpack detection equipment.
This assessment provided an opportunity for the participants to evaluate the current procedures in place for incident response, and helped to identify areas for improvement and further collaboration between all partners.
The Department is committed to enhancing radiological and nuclear detection capabilities in the maritime domain to ensure our nation’s shores are protected, and the DHS Domestic Nuclear Detection Office continues to support these activities across the country. This assessment was the second of its kind to evaluate the law enforcement response to a maritime direct-to-target threat.
Federal, state, and local agencies participating in the event included the Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Diego Police Department, San Diego Fire – Rescue Department, San Diego Fire – Rescue Department/ Lifeguard Division, San Diego Harbor Police Department, Imperial Beach Lifeguards, Coronado Lifeguards, Coronado Fire Department, and the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health.
Coordination between partners across the nuclear security enterprise is important, and continued collaboration between the Department and law enforcement partners, such as the San Diego law enforcement community, is vital in protecting our nation from the threat of nuclear terrorism.
For almost half a century, Rand Beers has devoted himself to the service of his country and the American people, from commanding a Marine Corps rifle company in Vietnam to serving as a top adviser in the Obama White House. And earlier this month, officials throughout the U.S. Government came together in honor of Rand’s retirement and to recognize his distinguished career in public service.
For his nearly 50 years of dedication to the strengthening of our homeland and ensuring the safety and security of the American people, Rand Beers received the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Distinguished Public Service Medal, the Department’s highest civilian honor.
Rand Beers has been a selfless, diplomatic and skilled public servant. Over the course of his career – one that includes service on the National Security Council Staff of five Presidents from different political parties – he has been at the forefront of the most challenging national security issues we have faced as a country; from counterterrorism to cybersecurity; from border security to advancing the nation’s security relationship with critical North American partners.
Prior to his last appointment, as the Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, Rand served as the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security. Throughout his time at DHS, he provided guidance on a wide range of homeland security-related priorities, including overseeing departmental operations and policies to prevent, respond to, and mitigate terrorist threats to U.S. national security. He also led efforts to reduce risks to physical, cyber, and communications infrastructures for more than four years as the Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate.
Throughout his career, Beers has been a champion for the safety and security of the American public. During his retirement ceremony, Deputy Secretary Mayorkas, on behalf of the entire Department, paid tribute to a great leader and true public servant.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Nation will remember the lasting impact of Rand Beers. We thank him for his service and his patriotism.
The Department of Homeland Security is proud that three of our social media accounts have been recognized among Government Executive’s top accounts in government. DHS utilizes social media to communicate with the public in dynamic and innovative ways, and strives to provide more information in more places in ways.
Learn more about these award-winning accounts:
S&T was recognized for their monthly Twitter chats that share the latest in government research and development, and our continued work to provide first responders nationwide with the technology their need to do their jobs.
FEMA’s blog is authored by employees from around the agency, utilizing a variety of viewpoints to communicate on topics ranging from technology to emergency preparedness tips to how we are staying one step ahead of the next threats. The latest blog post, authored by FEMA Region 10 Public Affairs Specialist Erin Ward, is focused on recovery and rebuilding efforts one year after the Oso, Wash. mudslide.
Transportation Security Administration’s Instagram Account
TSA’s Instagram account shares photos of wide variety of prohibited items that our hardworking TSA officers find daily at our nation’s airports – to remind the traveling public what can and can’t fly aboard the aircraft. Additionally, the account highlights useful travel tips, risk-based security initiatives like the popular TSA Pre✓® program, and of course our dedicated workforce and their canine companions.
Learn more about the Department of Homeland Security on social media here.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson shares a hug with TSA supervisor Carol Richel and Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Heather Sylve during a visit to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. When a deranged man attacked TSA officers and wounded Officer Richel last Friday, Lieutenant Heather Sylve took the attacker down and saved Officer Richel’s life. The bravery and dedication of these women, and our TSA workforce at this airport and at airports across the country, is an inspiration.
Official DHS Photo by Barry Bahler | Download High-Resolution Image (2100 x 1494)
Posted by Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector Raul Perales
EDITORS NOTE: This blog was originally posted by the White House on March 26.
For the sake of our economy and our security, legal immigration should be simple and efficient. After the long wait for a legislative solution to fix our broken system, the President took action within his authority to help streamline the legal immigration system until Congress passes commonsense, comprehensive reform.
Earlier this week, speaking at the 2015 SelectUSA Investment Summit, President Obama announced the next steps the Administration is taking to attract the world’s top talented professionals by making it easier for global companies to launch and invest in the United States:
My administration is going to reform the L-1B visa category, which allows corporations to temporarily move workers from a foreign office to a U.S. office in a faster, simpler way. And this could benefit hundreds of thousands of nonimmigrant workers and their employers; that, in turn, will benefit our entire economy and spur additional investment.
Specifically, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued proposed guidance this week clarifying the standards and creating consistency for decisions of L-1B nonimmigrant visa applications. This is a popular visa category that allows global companies to temporarily transfer specialized workers to the U.S. for the purpose of launching or expanding a U.S. operation.
This long-anticipated policy guidance, which has been released for public feedback, has been of particular interest to global companies seeking to do business in the United States. It will provide increased certainty to businesses and eliminate confusion in the L-1B program, helping to bolster investment and our overall economic growth.
By releasing this updated guidance, the Department of Homeland Security is taking yet another important step forward in executing the President’s immigration executive actions announced in November 2014. These actions will modernize and streamline the legal immigration system, helping grow the U.S. economy, create jobs, and recognize the fluid dynamics of the 21st century.
The economic benefits of the President’s action are formidable. Last month, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers released an updated report on the economic impact of the entirety of the President’s executive actions, finding that they could boost the nation’s GDP by as much as $250 billion while shrinking the federal deficit by as much as $65 billion over the next 10 years. These actions are also expected to increase wages and productivity of all workers, not just immigrants, and expand the American workforce by an estimated 200,000 people over the next 10 years.
While the President is leading through administration actions, he also recognizes that more must be done through legislation. As he stated at the SelectUSA Investment Summit:
Of course, as all of you know, one of the things that would make America even more attractive to businesses and that would grow our economy and shrink our deficits, and keep this country safer, stronger, and smarter, would be a comprehensive immigration reform package. We need to get immigration reform done here in the United States of America.
The bottom line: Only Congress can finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system. President Obama continues to be committed to working with Congress to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan bill that will capture the full economic benefits of immigration reform
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson was honored earlier this week with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) Empowering Voices Award, for his dedication to and personal investment in engagement with Muslim American communities across the United States.
During the 2015 Empowering Voices Gala and before White House representatives, Members of Congress, and civil society leaders, MPAC DC Director Haris Tarin and President Salam Al-Marayati recognized Secretary Johnson for his dedication to public service and empowering the Muslim American community through forums, discussions, and meetings throughout the country.
During the past year, Secretary Johnson has made it a personal priority to engage community organizations to promote local efforts and partnerships to counter homegrown violent extremism. Since June 2014, Secretary Johnson has traveled to Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Columbus, and Chicago, and has used these opportunities to hear from hundreds of community leaders, and understand how the Department can better serve their needs.
In addition to Secretary Johnson’s personal commitment to the issue, the award recognizes the Department’s continued efforts to engage with local communities on this important issue. The Department, through its Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), operates an interagency community engagement program anchored by regularly-held quarterly roundtables in 16 cities around the country. These roundtables, among other similar efforts undertaken by CRCL in partnership with all Department component agencies and offices, serve as a primary tool in the Department's efforts at building trust, explaining policies, clarifying misconceptions, and addressing grievances.
As Americans, we all have an equal stake in the safety and security of our country, and the protection of our family, friends, and neighbors. DHS and Secretary Johnson remain committed to fostering public engagement in countering the extremist narrative and encouraging continued positive engagement in society, and full participation in the democratic process. We continue to become a stronger nation, and a more perfect union, as a result.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Secretary Jeh Johnson and his Canadian counterpart, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney, share a laugh during a bilateral meeting in Washington, D.C.. On Monday, Secretary Johnson and Minister Blaney signed a preclearance agreement that will significantly benefit travelers and trade by reducing congestion and efficiency at the border by allowing for the immigration, customs and agriculture inspections required for entry into either country to occur on foreign soil.
Official DHS Photo by Barry Bahler.
Kevin K. McAleenan was officially sworn in as U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner – the agency’s chief operating official – March 18 during a ceremony at CBP headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Secretary Jeh C. Johnson and CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske spoke of Deputy Commissioner McAleenan’s distinguished work as a public servant, and well as his dedication to and vision for the agency.
After taking the oath of office, Deputy Commissioner McAleenan addressed the audience and highlighted the talent and accomplishments of CBP’s global workforce.
“Our people are our heart and soul,” said Deputy Commissioner McAleenan. “I believe we have the best leadership team in the government and I know we have a frontline workforce that has never let us down, no matter what challenges they face. We’re attracting tremendous talent and investing in enhanced training for them to take us to the next level.”
Mr. McAleenan served as the acting Deputy Commissioner since March 30, 2013. He previously served since Dec. 31, 2011, as acting assistant commissioner of the CBP Office of Field Operations, leading the agency’s port security and facilitation operations. Prior to serving in these capacities, he held the position of deputy assistant commissioner, Office of Field Operations, between July 2010 and December 2011.
Learn more about CBP here: www.cbp.gov