Want Your Tax Refund? Better Take a Selfie First

In this technology-driven day and age, critics of smartphone consumers condemn users about their fondness for taking selfies (a photo taken of oneself with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media), which critics believe are causing people to become increasingly vain, narcissistic, and self-absorbed. But, could taking a selfie make you richer? According to www.nextgov.com, some state revenue agencies and motor vehicle departments are receiving federal tax returns to verify the smartphone selfies of taxpayers in order to distribute refunds.

That’s right, selfies are not just for posting to social media platforms anymore; they are for security too. Indeed, in late 2016, residents of North Carolina and Georgia will be permitted to download a ‘selfie matching’ facial recognition application meant to deter thieves from claiming state tax refunds in their name. MorphoTrust, the biometric technology provider of this innovative mobile application, remains cognizant of the fact that confidential biographical data alone is not enough protection against identity theft as more and more personal data is readily available online. More compelling evidence of identity theft comes from the federal government when in August 2015, it disclosed that identity thieves entered stolen private information of over 300,000 individuals, and filed for $39 million in fraudulent funds. In another case, TurboTax had to suspend its state return filing services earlier this year after numerous states reported thieves using false identities to collect refunds.

In spite of rising rates of cyber-criminal activity, thousands of North Carolina and Georgia residents will be able to prevent anyone from filing and collecting their refund if they do not possess the same facial features, personal information, and driver’s license credentials beginning in late 2016, according to officials. To explain how this facial recognition application will have a positive effect for taxpayers, the designers describe how the MorphoTrust mechanism will work (www.nextgov.com):

  • An individual will download a MorphoTrust application that will be available on several smartphone models
  • The user will scan the barcode on their driver’s license with the phone
  • The individual uses the phone to take a photo of the front of the license so that DMV can verify it is a valid license
  • Users then take a selfie by opening their phone cameras and taking a self-portrait
  • The taxpayer consequently consents to having the barcode scan and photo cross-matched with data in the DMV’s records

Furthermore, the images that are transmitted will not be stored nor shared by MorphoTrust, the DMV, or the taxpayer to ensure absolute protection for the application user. This kind of identity security is important especially with the increasing incidences of hacking, data breaches, and phishing scams that are targeting individuals and government agencies, like the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which is now facing a class action lawsuit over a breach of 4.2 million federal employees’ personal data.

To heighten awareness of internet users, President Obama has recognized the importance of cybersecurity to our nation by designating October as National Cyber Security Awareness Month. According to the Department of Homeland Security, National Cyber Security Awareness Month is designed to engage and educate public and private sector partners through events and initiatives with the goal of raising awareness about cybersecurity and increasing the resiliency of the nation in the event of a cyber incident (www.dhs.gov).

Unfortunately, selfies are not yet the norm for identity verification nor identity protection. However, the Department of Homeland Security has provided Americans with the following internet user advice to practice in order to keep themselves, their personal information, and their assets safe online (www.dhs.gov):

  • Set strong passwords and don’t share them with anyone.
  • Keep your operating system, browser, and other critical software optimized by installing updates.
  • Maintain an open dialogue with your employees, co-workers, and colleagues about Internet safety.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you post online and use privacy settings to avoid sharing information widely.
  • Be cautious about what you receive or read online—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Ultimately, internet users who are active in the online community must be as protective about their information as they are about family and finances. Since online security is far from “theft-proof”, my advice is to create and frequently change passwords, secure your wireless networks, and be a good online citizen.

The infographic shown below is useful for both small businesses and individuals as cybersecurity is a major component of safety in today’s digital age.