As the deadline for filing your 2013 federal tax returns looms on the horizon, now is the time to consider protecting your tax information from fraud and theft. Tax season is one of the most popular times of the year, next to holidays, for initiating scams, fraud, and phishing attacks. The primary target is still the same as with any malicious attack on private data and files; they target the users who are unwilling to stay aware of their vulnerabilities and refuse to use common sense.
For those of you who wish to keep your tax info private, here are some important tips to keep in mind this tax season.
Use common sense
If you are used to protecting your files from normal security threats, then this is old news. Just follow the normal steps that you take to secure your data.
If you are unsure, keep these tips in mind.
- Be wary of all links and attachments in emails that are unsolicited and this includes family and friends. Phishing scams are very popular and all it takes is one inadvertent link-click and your data becomes vulnerable.
- Be sure to use a strong password. Simple and easy to guess passwords not only make it easier for you to remember your password, but also makes it easy for a determined hacker to guess. You do not have to go overboard on this password, just create one that is only used for this service and is a random combination of numbers and letters. Better yet, start using a password manager.
- Be sure to guarantee the online service you are using is secure. As with any secure link used in your web browser, make sure that the site is using the correct and up-to-date security certificates and that you are connecting through HTTPS.
- Be sure that you are working online in a secure environment. In other words, make sure that your computer is up to date with all patches and that you have an active and up-to-date virus and malware security program.
No IRS emails
This is a simple phishing attack. The IRS does not email taxpayers without prior consent or contact, meaning you will be expecting an email from them and not surprised by receiving one. Just because the email looks official, doesn't mean it is. You can check the return address, look at the included URLs, or better yet just delete it.
Your PIN is yours alone
The IRS does not ask for your PIN outside of the official site. If you receive any class, text, emails, or other correspondence that requests your PIN it is a fake and should be treated as a scamming attack.
Be a skeptic
This is common sense at its best. If the scam looks too good to be true, it is. Disregard any suspicious contact or delete it straight away. If you happen to delete something important or official, the contact will more than likely resend the message again or in a different format. It is better to be safe than sorry when data security is involved.
Public Wi-Fi is the bane of security. Many public Wi-Fi services use older, existing security protocols that have back doors or have been cracked and are easily accessible by people who know how to do that sort of thing. There is no reason what so ever to even consider filing your tax return over a public Wi-Fi service.
If you have to, be sure to log out completely from all accounts before leaving the pc. There is always the chance that the next person to use that computer may have the know-how or interest in stealing your tax data. The best way to solve this problem is to not use a shared or public computer to file or access your tax information.