BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It's something many people do multiple times a day at work, but responding to emails can be risky when personal information is involved. The IRS has seen a 400 percent increase in email related scams this tax season.
It's become a common way to send information of all kinds, but as the IRS is warning businesses this tax season, you can't always be sure who you're sending an email to. One of the many scams they've highlighted this month involves cyber criminals passing themselves off as a CEO or CFO of a company.
"Ask for a variety of confidential information from an HR professional or somebody in finance, and everything seems perfectly normal... and the information is sent," said John Horn, Harter Secrest & Emery partner.
Horn says scams like these illustrate how today's hackers don't just focus on weaknesses in hardware or software.
"Where the hackers have their greatest success is where they catch people not thinking. They prey on what's normal, what's routine. In that setting, people tend to act reflexively," said Horn.
Horn advises anyone dealing with personal information to take a step back before sending it electronically.
"Maybe pick up the phone, have a face-to-face conversation, get 'old school' and verify that you're doing the right thing," said Horn.
"If you actually do have to send information, send it in a password protected format, or let that person know how they can access that information if they're internal, using the password. Then send the password separately or call with the password separately. All of the information requires multiple steps to access," said Amy Hemenway, Harter Secrest & Emery partner.
Since businesses collect information from both employees and customers, Hemenway stresses the importance of having measures in place to protect it.
"That includes keeping confidential information like social security numbers in secure databases that are password protected, limiting access to only those individuals that might really have a need to know, and also only keeping that information that they actually really need to keep," said Hemenway.
The Internet isn't the only means scammers use to steal personal information. The IRS has reported phone schemes this tax season as well.
"I think it's a good rule of thumb to recognize that anybody with whom you should be sharing your social security number or your bank account information, isn't going to call you up and ask for it," said Horn.