5 Steps You Must Take to Secure Your Identity This Tax Season
Last year, two out of every three taxpayers or 95 million Americans e-filed their tax returns. One third of those returns were processed from a home computer. That means that over 32 million of us are using our PCs to handle our most essential financial data. Think about all the information included in your tax documents, not to mention all of the confidential communication that goes into completing your return.
That’s why cybercriminals love this time of year. They know if they can crack enough email accounts, they'll get the access they need to loot millions through identity theft.
So if you’re going to use your PC to process and file your return by April 15, security is crucial. Tax preparers who e-file are mandated to follow very demanding processes for protecting your data. However, their defenses won’t do you any good if your PC is infected or you fall for an online scam.
Follow these steps to keep your identity secure this tax season:
1. Make sure your system, applications and Internet security software are updated.
In January, the world learned that even Google gets hacked. No matter who you are if you aren’t running the most current software, you’re inviting criminals into your PC. F-Secure makes it easy for you to update the most popular applications on your PC with our free Health Check. Still, new security holes appear all the time. That’s why F-Secure built Exploit Shield. Exploit Shield is a part of F-Secure’s Internet Security 2010 and protects against sneak attacks like the one that hit Google. Make sure your PC is updated with the latest Internet security software and do a scan before you even start to work on your return. And if you aren't running any security software, please run our free Online Scanner before you get started with your taxes.
2. If you have VPN, use it when you're using Wi-Fi. If you don’t, then don’t use a public hotspot to work on sensitive stuff.
3. Doublecheck your tax preparer or tax preparation software.
If your preparer is filing for you, make sure he or she follows the government’s guidelines for tax data security. If you’re using tax prep software, check out third-party reviews of the software or site. Remember that 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. If you're using an web service, check to make sure that URL of the site you’re e-filing on begins with “https” NOT “http.” That extra “s” stands for secured and if you don’t see it, don’t file. In fact if you’re entering any confidential information online and don’t see “https,” that’s a sign that the online service you are using is probably not reputable.
4. Guard your email accounts as if they’re holding cash money.
“123456” is still one of the world’s most popular passwords. “Password” and using the name of the site as the password follow closely behind. These passwords might as well be, as the New York Times wrote, "hackme."
With so many logins on so many sites, it’s easy to see why we would reuse the same simple passwords over and over. However, password laziness can cost dearly. If you’re considering e-filing you must establish strong passwords for all of your accounts that mix letters and numbers. Do not use birthdays, your name, pet names or any other piece of information you reveal on Facebook in your password. And use different passwords for every site you visit. How can you keep track of all these complex passwords? Write them down.
But even with strong passwords, there is always a chance that you could make a silly mistake and leave your email open on a public computer. Or maybe your PC is hacked and you have your login information saved in your browser. Or your email account could just be a part of a large-scale security breach, which is much more likely than an individual attack. If this happens, thieves can access your email and attachments, including all of your sent mail if you, for instance, use Gmail, which saves sent email by default. They can even change your password on your accounts. So erase any confidential emails, credentials and attachments as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may be making life easy for a cyberthug
5. Refuse to be phished.
We are often the weakest link in our own security. No security software in the world is going to help if you install a piece of malware or offer your password to hacker. The most common way we get tricked is through emails and websites that impersonate banks and other institutions. This is known as phishing. Be skeptical of any unsolicited email you get requesting you to change a password. In fact, be skeptical of any unsolicited email from any financial institution—especially the IRS itself. If you’re unsure at all about any piece of communication, contact the institution directly. This may cost you some time, but it can save you years of heartburn. The best thing you can do to ensure you do not get phished is to learn what these scams look like. This quiz will help.
Nearly 800 million returns have been filed safely through e-file since the program began in the late 1980s. With some basic security in mind, you can file electronically and safely get your return faster.