Friday, April 6, 2012

How To Protect Your Tax Information On-Line

Tax time is fast approaching, and more and more of us are filing electronically. This also makes it the official opening of hunting season for cyber crooks: they’re looking for vulnerabilities so they can steal the coveted prize - your Social Security number, and all the other sensitive information that’s on your tax forms.

How do you protect yourself if you’re filing your taxes yourself or emailing information to your tax preparer or anyone else for that matter?
Don't make it easy for crooks to get your information at tax time.
Read and learn:

1. Update Your System and Security Software
Computer protection is always important, and never more so than right now.
PC users: Make sure that your PC is protected with the latest security software. There are many free programs that can check to make sure your security applications are current. McAfee is the best known and most widely respected company for this, but their products aren’t free. Go to their web site for the latest updates and other lessons on protecting your data.
Mac users: Go to your Software Update icon and check to see that you’re up to date on all the releases. Top right corner of your screen, type in the words “Software Update” and click on the application icon. A new window will open and follow those instructions.
2. In this case, it’s okay to be old-fashioned
Sharing your tax forms via email is risky. There, I’ve said it.
If you need to get tax forms to your spouse, partner, or tax preparer, send the documents via snail mail (registered, of course), or deliver it to them yourself. It’s okay to burn the information onto a CD or other transportable device to avoid the hassle of paper.
3. Protect Your Email Attachments
If you’re a procrastinator, and you know if you are, and you’re bumping up to the April 15th filing deadline, you may need to send something crucial via email.
If that’s the case, make sure you password protect the file and give the recipient that password verbally. And, need I say, their computer must have the latest security updates too? No point in closing your barn door if they’ve left theirs wide open.

Don't know how to password protect your files? Then read my article on how to do this by clicking HERE.
4. Password Protection
As I wrote in an earlier blog, “Are You Inviting Identity Theft? Probably…” , you need to make your password(s) impenetrable.
Family birthdays, addresses, etc., are probably the same information that’s on your Facebook page. Hello? USE DIFFERENT INFORMATION! Make up a word and have variables of it. How easy do you want to make it for the bad guys?
Your mobile device is not immune from tax hackers. There are plenty of apps available to do your taxes on your SmartPhone (that seems like a very funny sentence to me, but who am I to judge?). Make sure you password protect your SmartPhone (see my blog: You Lock Your House, Lock Your SmartPhone too”).
And don’t ever, ever, do your taxes on a device, whether it’s a SmartPhone or a laptop, at a public WiFi hot spot. These are not secure, and the bad guys are constantly scanning them for security holes and the valuable information that they can harvest from here.
5. Need I say, double-check that your tax preparer’s software is up to date?
There are government guidelines for tax data security. Make sure that your preparer is following them.
If you’re filing yourself and using tax preparation software, buy the best; it’s tax deductible next year.
If you follow these simple guidelines, odds are pretty good that you won’t be one of the 300,000 people who complained about cybercrime last year.

This information is intended to be used as a guideline only. It is not an endorsement of any product, nor is it a guarantee of results.

Copyright © The B. Hammil Company, 2012

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