IRS Takes Steps Against Identity Theft

Tax fraud is an issue in the United States. The Internal Revenue Service has been taking steps to protect and prevent consumers from become victims of identity theft through tax refund fraud. More than 236,000 tax returns processed last year were considered fraudulent due to identity theft.

“Tax refund fraud associated with identity theft (IDT) continues to be an evolving threat, one that imposes a serious financial and emotional toll on honest taxpayers and threatens the integrity of the tax administration system,” the Government Accountability Office said in a report in August.

Nearly $1.2 billion in refunds were blocked last year. The IRS has been investing in addressing the issue of identity theft for consumers. The number of identity theft returns is down significantly from 2012. The IRS reported that the numbers have been improved because of new filters that the IRS has put in place.

One of the ways that the IRS has been taking steps to prevent identity theft is through the use of personal identification numbers or PINs for those who have been victims tax fraud. PINs are used to keep consumer information protected and private. The number of identity protection PINs issued by the IRS increased from 770,000 in 2013 to 1.2 million in 2014.

The IRS will limit the number of refunds direct deposited into a single account beginning this year. The idea is that the limit to three direct deposits will reduce identity theft. If a taxpayer has more than 3 refunds, the rest will be mailed as a paper check.

The IRS has increased staff assigned to work on identity theft cases that are reported and the agency has increased the amount of information on the website for consumers. Consumers can learn about tax fraud, identity theft, and the ways to report suspicious activity.

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Indiana stops $88M in identity theft in 2014

Indiana is successfully putting a stop to identity theft due to new security measures. The Indiana Department of Revenue reported that the agency stopped over $88M in identity theft in 2014. Residents of Indiana should expect to see similar security measures in place for the 2015 tax season.

One of the security measures that the Department of Revenue will uses is an identity confirmation quiz. The quiz is two-minutes long and asks taxpayers to verify their identity.

According to WTHR, “The Department of Revenue says the $88 million figure came from stolen or manufactured identity theft tax refunds stopped (out of $800 million in total requested refunds); 74,000 fraudulent returns identified (out of 2.2 million total returns requesting refunds); 3.5 percent of all tax returns were fraudulent.”

The security features in place helped taxpayers realize that their identities had been stolen. Indiana residents, and residents of every state in the U.S., are reminded to take care when giving out personal information and to make sure that private information is secure.

Indiana offers residents a guide on protecting themselves from becoming victims of identity theft through the department’s Stop ID Theft website.

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Sony Offers Directors and Writers Guilds Identity Theft Protection

Sony Pictures Entertainment is attempting to recover from a mass hacking that took place earlier this month. The hackers, reportedly from North Korea, sent threatening messages to the studio and to movie fans who were hoping to see the film “The Interview” on Christmas Day. The hackers leaked sensitive personal data, embarrassing emails, and subjected numerous employees to identity theft through the release of Social Security numbers along with a list of high-ranking officials within Sony.

In an attempt to try and make matters right within Sony, the company has offered identity theft protection to directors and writers who work for the studio. Identity theft protection will be offered through AllClear ID. The service was offered to Sony’s 3,803 employees when the massive leaks began. Sony is now offering it to the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America West.

“The DGA supports Sony in its efforts to combat any ill effects of the attack on DGA members,” the DGA told Variety. “We do not know whether or whose personal information may have been compromised, but Sony is offering one year of identity protection at no charge to any present or former employee who requests it.”

Sony is offering the identity theft protection service for one year, at no charge, to present or former employees who request it and who fit certain criteria.

The three largest movie chains in the nation canceled the Christmas screening of “The Interview” and there are currently no plans for when the film will be released. There is no reports about whether it will get to the big screen or if it will go direct to video.

 

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Hackers Win Round Against Sony: The Interview Pulled from Theaters

Hackers have won a round against Sony Pictures Entertainment this week after a devastating cyber attact. Sony pulled “The Interview” from theaters nation wide after the hackers spread fear throughout the entertainment industry. “The Interview” was to be released in theaters on Christmas Day. Sony said they would no longer hold screenings of the film in any of their theaters.

U.S. intelligence has linked the cyber attack on Sony to the North Korean government. The film portrays the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It is believed that the hackers from North Korea were given the order to hack Sony’s computer system targetting sensitive data including emails, financial records and salaries of Sony’s top stars.

It is unclear whether “The Interview” will be released soon. The hackers made threats against Sony by promising movie goers with a “bitter fate” should they head to theaters to screen the film. The hackers threated a 9/11-like attack on all movie theaters that screen the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy.

The warning reads:

“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.

  • Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.
  • The world will be full of fear.
  • Remember the 11th of September 2001.
  • We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.
  • (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)
  • Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
  • All the world will denounce the SONY.”

In addition to the terroristic threat, the hackers released the content of files called “Michael Lynton” (CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment) which included embarrassing emails and sensitive personal data. The tactics used by the hackers worked to caused the nations three largest movie chains to cancel showings of “The Interview” with an unknown release date.

Sony has no current plans to release the film either to theaters or direct to video.

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Make YouTube Safer for Your Kids

 

YouTube has just about anything a kid could want to watch. It also has just about anything an adult would want to watch to. A simple search for “Mickey Mouse” will bring up thousands of videos including ones that are not appropriate for children. It is even possible that your child could be watching a perfectly acceptable YouTube video for his/her age group but then a completely inappropriate one comes up in the suggested video watching section that looks enticing.

Parents can easily prevent their children from seeing inappropriate videos by following a few simple steps to make YouTube safer for children. Google has a built in security filter on YouTube. The first thing parents should do is go to the YouTube homepage, scroll all the way down to the bottom and click on the toggle that says “safety: off”. Turn the safety section to “on”. This will activate Google’s safety filter. It will hide adult content videos and may hide some videos that have graphic violence.

A drawback to the method above is that it will automatically default to the “safety: off” method as soon as the browser is closed. To prevent the default from occuring a parent should log in to YouTube with their Google account. Once there an option for “save and safety lock mode” that will keep YouTube from defaulting back to the “safety: off” option.

Parents should also be aware of what their children are watching. Making a playlist of videos that are acceptable and appropriate is simple to do through a YouTube account. Go into “playlists” and create a new playlist with videos that are age appropriate.

Parents can use a special search tool to find kid friendly results for webpages, videos, and more. Safe Search Kids is the “Google Kids Search Engine” which filters out things that are inappropriate for children. Safe Search Kids also offers a step by step guide to parental controls on various websites including YouTube, Google, and offers guides for parental controls when kids game online.

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Lawsuit Claims BackPage.com Aids Sex Trafficking

Three sex trafficking victims have brought a lawsuit against BackPage.com. The victims claim that the website helps promote the exploitation of children. Lawyers for the victims claim that the girls were sold as prostitutes through ads on BackPage.com. BackPage says that the lawsuit is an attempt at censorship and has asked a judge to dismiss the case. The judge declined, BackPage appealed.

The Washington Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. BackPage believes the case should be thrown out because the Communications Decency Act of 1996 gives it immunity from the activities of its members. The victims say they were raped multiple times when they were teenagers and that the website is partially responsible for their sex trafficking.

KiroTV.com reported, “According to court documents, when pimps forced the women to offer sex on the controversial website, Backpage never verified their ages and instructed sex traffickers not to use certain words or graphics to avoid scrutiny from the public and police.”

During the arguments, the Supreme Court Justice’s asked both sides whether BackPage was part of contributing, developing or creating content for the website. The attorney for BackPage claimed that it was clear that his client did not create or develop the ads that allegedly harmed the plaintiffs. He argues that this is an effort to chill online speech.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was the first attempt by the United States to regulate pornographic material on the internet. It criminalized the transmission of materials that were “obscene or indecent” to persons known to be under 18. However, many portions of CDA have been struck down for violating the right to free speech.

The BackPage lawsuit could have a major effect on sex trafficking. The ruling in the case could also have a huge impact on free speech in the online world.

If you suspect child sex trafficking, it should be reported to the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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Yik Yak App: A Parent Guide to Social Media

The Yik Yak app is a social media app that acts like a social media bulletin board. The Yik Yak webpage states, “It allows anyone to connect and share information with others without having to know them.” This could be very problematic for parents. Although the app webpage does state that the app is for users 17+ it has not prevented younger users from signing up.

Yik Yak is extremely popular with teens in high school. It has found such popularity through word-of-mouth. Many students who have heard of the app have only heard about it placed in a negative context yet they still take the plunge and download the app to use it.

CNN reported that “Some students have compared it to a virtual bathroom wall where users post vitriol and hate.” Fox News reported that it was the ultimate tool for bullies. Other media outlets have also reported that Yik Yak is a platform for hate speech or harrasment.

Recently, the Washington Post did a report on how Yik Yak has become a scourge across the land on high school and college campuses from California to Concord, N.H. Some incidents that have happened due to the app include a student leaking a video sex tape, 2 students charged with felonies over posts made to the app bulletin board, and another student charged and arrested for making threats about a “Virginia Tech 2” promise on the bulletin board of Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is currently in the process of being banned on high school and college campuses. Parents should encourage their children to delete this app from their smartphones if they downloaded it. There are other apps that are safer for kids to use. Parents can ensure that kids don’t download the app by setting up age restrictions on their child’s mobile device. Parents can also encourage their child’s school to block the app by asking the school to request a geofence.

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Lawsuit Claims BackPage.com Aids Sex Trafficking

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Three sex trafficking victims have brought a lawsuit against BackPage.com. The victims claim that the website helps promote the exploitation of children. Lawyers for the victims claim that the girls were sold as prostitutes through ads on BackPage.com. BackPage says that the lawsuit is an attempt at censorship and has asked a judge to dismiss the case. The judge declined, BackPage appealed.

The Washington Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. BackPage believes the case should be thrown out because the Communications Decency Act of 1996 gives it immunity from the activities of its members. The victims say they were raped multiple times when they were teenagers and that the website is partially responsible for their sex trafficking.

KiroTV.com reported, “According to court documents, when pimps forced the women to offer sex on the controversial website, Backpage never verified their ages and instructed sex traffickers not to use certain words or graphics to avoid scrutiny from the public and police.”

During the arguments, the Supreme Court Justice’s asked both sides whether BackPage was part of contributing, developing or creating content for the website. The attorney for BackPage claimed that it was clear that his client did not create or develop the ads that allegedly harmed the plaintiffs. He argues that this is an effort to chill online speech.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 was the first attempt by the United States to regulate pornographic material on the internet. It criminalized the transmission of materials that were “obscene or indecent” to persons known to be under 18. However, many portions of CDA have been struck down for violating the right to free speech.

The BackPage lawsuit could have a major effect on sex trafficking. The ruling in the case could also have a huge impact on free speech in the online world.

If you suspect child sex trafficking, it should be reported to the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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WebSafety Keeps Kids Safe on the Internet

WebSafety is a new cell phone app that allows parents to keep their children safe on the internet. It gives parents real-time information about the who, what and where of what their kids are doing online. The app helps parents monitor their children’s behavior and their whereabouts through real-time alerts.

web safety app

In an Interview between Michele Borba product developer of WebSafety, she mentions that WebSafety is very important for parents because it keeps them alerted to when their children are posting personal information and inappropriate things on the internet. She says that one of the most common things that kids do to make themselves vulnerable in the cyber world is the posting of private information.

The WebSafety app empowers parents to keep track of their childrens’ smartphone and tablet usage. It can trigger alerts for vulgar language, flag websites and monitor apps that kids and teens download onto their phones and tablets. WebSafety also offers geo-tracking. Parents can make sure kids are where they say they are going to be. It also allows parents to create a 25 mile geofence to alert them when the child has left the area.

WebSafety is running a limited time promotion of 50% off to the first 25,000 new subscribers to 6-month and 12-month subscriptions. It is available on most Android Smartphones and Tablets. iOS Support Coming Soon!

Pricing Packages start at $3.99 

  • Protects one child device.
  • Includes parent Dashboard.
  • Access to the WebSafety forum.
  • Customer support.
  • Additional devices cost $3.99/month.
  • Purchase a year’s subscription for $39.99, and two months free.

$11.99 / month

  • Protects four children’s devices.
  • Includes parent Dashboard.
  • Access to the WebSafety forum.
  • Customer support.
  • Additional devices cost $2.99/month.

$14.99 / month

  • Protects six children’s devices.
  • Includes parent Dashboard.
  • Access to the WebSafety forum.
  • Customer support.
  • Additional devices cost $2.49/month.
  • Purchase a year’s subscription for $149.99 and save over 16%.

Borba believes that the first step in protecting children on the internet is for parents to have the ability to be informed. She says that parents need to keep an open line of communication with their children and she recommends that kids be told when they are being monitored. Kids who know they are being watched will think more about what put out in the cyber world and more about who they are engaging with online.

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