5 Ways to Disappoint Cybercriminals As You Prepare Your Taxes
This year, for the first time, a majority of Americans will file their taxes online. This dramatic shift to digital filing has not been ignored by cybercriminals. Hackers all around the world are well aware that right now you're likely to have extremely sensitive financial data on your PC.
The FBI recently released a report on Cybercrime which revealed that online scams cost Americans $559.7 million in 2009. That’s up nearly 100% from 2008. And the most common scam involved crooks posing as FBI agents!
It’s obvious that the bad guys have no fear or shame. But with a little common-sense and preparation, you can easily avoid becoming one of the 300,000 plus Americans who will be contacting the Internet Crime Complaint Center this year.
1. Make sure your system and security software are updated.
The most essential element of computer security is even more important during tax season. Before you do any business on your PC, make sure that your machine is patched and protected with the latest software. F-Secure’s free Health Check makes this easy. Also, all the protection in the world won’t matter if you use an unprotected wireless network. If you’re going to connect to a public Wi-Fi spot to work on anything related to business or taxes, always connect via VPN.
2. Share your tax documents the old-fashion way.
Transmitting your tax forms through email is risky. If you need to get a 1099 or W-4 to your spouse or tax preparer, you should send it through snail mail or deliver it directly. You can burn your Excel files onto a CD or save them to a removable drive.
3. If you must email a document, zip and password protect the file.
As deadlines near you may have to email a crucial file. If you do, zip the file and password protect it. Then tell the person the password over the phone. And don’t be afraid to ask anyone you’re sharing confidential data with if he or she is using a PC that is completely updated. They should appreciate the reminder.
4. Password protect your life.
Yes, millions of Americans use 12345 as a password. Even for business accounts! Others are still using pet names and birthdays and other information that can be easily gleaned off most Facebook profiles. This makes life too easy for the bad guys. Taking the time to use a password system that makes it easy to create and remember passwords is crucial for your sanity and security. Here’s a simple password system we recommend.
5. Double-check your tax preparer or tax preparation software.
If your preparer is filing for you, make sure he or she follows the US government’s guidelines for tax data security. If you’re using tax prep software, check out third-party reviews of the software or site. The money you spend preparing your taxes is deductible on your next year’s taxes, so forget about who’s cheapest and go with the best you can afford.
With a few precautions, you can count on your PC during these last few days before April 15. You may disappoint a few cybercriminals, but you'll make your life a whole lot easier.