Tax time is fast approaching, and before you know it you'll be collecting 1099s, filling out Schedule Cs, and asking your financial consultant for tax advice. That also means it's time to ensure that you're ready for the security risks that accompany tax season.
Here are five things you can do to help make your financial and personal information more secure:
1. Email from the IRS is not legitimate. Let's get this out of the way right up front: The IRS isn't going to send you an email. Not ever. The government sends old-fashioned snail mail. If you get an email claiming to be from the IRS, it's probably some sort of phishing scam, designed to get you to divulge your social security number, bank account number, or some other personal info. There really aren't any exceptions to this rule, so don't be fooled.
2. Verify e-filing services. There are a lot of websites out there claiming to let you file your taxes, and some even offer to do it for free. There's a lot of risk associated with trusting your sensitive tax information to one of these sites, though, so it's a good idea to verify that they're legitimate. The easiest way to do that is to find the site on the official IRS website, which lists all approved e-filing services.
3. Stop faxing. Remember fax machines, those? This is one time of year people tend to use them to send tax and financial information to tax preparers and other professionals. Don't fax. It's an inherently unsecure technology. Instead, scan receipts and other documents and email them back and forth. You'll dramatically reduce your exposure to physical security problems, like someone pilfering your financial history from the inbox of a fax machine in a busy office.
4. Don't file via Wi-Fi. When you're ready to file your taxes this year, don't do it from Starbucks. Don't even do it from your home Wi-Fi network, unless that network is properly secured. For peace of mind, file your taxes from a PC that's plugged into your network hub via an Ethernet cable.
5. Make sure your computer's anti-virus software is up to date. The stakes are never higher than during tax season. Not only are you working with all of your previous financial and most personal documents, but you're getting a flurry of email about taxes and finances as well. You know all about phishing scams and viruses, but it only takes one goof to cause a disaster. With that in mind, be sure you're running some sort of anti-virus software, and that its definitions are up to date. I have a fondness for, which has the added benefit of being free.