Tax Time Guide Protect Personal, Financial, Tax Information and Computers

Are you getting ready to file your business tax by the IRS? It's time to think about safety and data confidentiality.

According to John Koskinen, IRS Commissioner, the Internal Revenue Service does everything in its power to shield taxpayers against criminal-minded individuals bent on identity theft, or other scams that aim to steal information or assets. Recently, the IRS issued a cautionary statement to taxpayers about how the agency itself cannot bear the security burden alone, and how taxpayers must also be vigilant against the tricks and scams of such predators. Included in the agency's statement were some guidelines for keeping information safe and secure.

Safeguard Personal Information

Personal data should never be given out to anyone without serious consideration about whether the information requested is necessary and legitimate. Critical data like email addresses, bank account numbers, utility account numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security card numbers, and other personal data, can all be used by scammers to get at your assets, or to open new accounts under your name. Think twice about how and where you are going to use this information at all.

Be Wary Of Phishing

Phishing remains one of the most effective ways for cybercriminals to steal sensitive data from you, because they trick you into providing sensitive information by looking like official communications from banks, credit card companies, and even the IRS itself. Another popular scam is to inform the recipient that he or she has won some kind of prize, and you have to update one of your accounts to take possession of that prize. Many of these phishing attempts also include attachments which, when opened, release malware into your computer, which can steal and then encrypt all your data files, and make them unusable unless you pay the demanded ransom fee.

Don't Get Fooled By Phony Calls Or Emails

If you should happen to get a phone call or an email from someone claiming to work at the IRS, who wants to discuss your pending refund, or to inform you of an investigation in progress - just hang up the phone or delete the email. The IRS simply does not use email as a vehicle for discussing refunds or investigations, so what you received was undoubtedly a scam attempt. Also, avoid opening any attachments from emails claiming to originate from the IRS. Almost all calls from people claiming to be IRS agents are likewise scams, so you should never give out personal data to anyone over the phone like this.

Make Sure Online Tax Preparation Is Secure

Almost 10% of users who fill out their tax information online, do so over an unsecure website, and these are exactly the sites most vulnerable to cyberattack and data theft. By filling out your tax form at a secure online website, you can avoid a great deal of the risk associated with online tax data entry. To determine whether or not a given website is safe, look for the 's' suffix at the end of the HTTP keyword in the URL string (arrow #1).

Secure-SSL

A URL which begins with 'https' means that the site has been encrypted against attack, and is secure for you to enter your tax data.

Your Chrome browser will alert you when you're using a non-secure website vs. a secured one (see arrow #2). This example illustrates the secure accessing of an American Express website, via a Chrome browser.

Use Strong Passwords On Personal Accounts

It goes without saying that the stronger a password is, the more difficult it is for a scammer or hacker to guess or take possession of it. It's a good practice to create passwords which are at least 12 characters in length, and which are comprised of a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. You should resist the temptation to use passwords which are easily remembered, because those are also the kind most easily guessed.

Such passwords are almost always reflections of personal information like phone numbers, addresses, relatives' names, birth dates, etc., and these are the very first attempts that a hacker will make. By being completely unpredictable, and even random with your password selection, you can make it just about impossible for a hacker to guess.

Protect Your Computer With Security Software

At minimum, a device which you use to connect to the Internet should have security software installed on it. These days, most computers are sold with antivirus software and firewalls already installed on them, and it goes without saying that these should never be disabled. Make sure the settings on your antivirus software allows for automatic updates to be downloaded, because new threats emerge daily on the Internet, and new antivirus protection is developed daily as well. To keep up with all the most recent threats, your machine needs to have all current countermeasures installed.

The Importance Of Backups

The simple truth is that any computer which accesses the Internet cannot be 100% secure. That means any important information you have on your computer should be backed up in another location, and safely stored for retrieval when necessary. Documents such as state and federal tax returns are often used as proof of income for bank loans and other such applications, so you cannot afford to have these destroyed or corrupted. All critical information of a personal nature should be printed out, so you have a hard copy somewhere, and you should also have an electronic version copied onto a disk.

Do You Have A Plan?

If you feel insecure about filing your business taxes and potentially exposing your critical personal data to the possibility of theft, it would be well worth your while to consult with the security experts. Any cost incurred by seeking expert advice will always be far less than what you might potentially lose to a determined cybercriminal.

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