Tax fraud and tax-related identity theft isn’t exactly rampant–there were 50,000 complaints in 2006, compared to nearly 10 million cases of identity theft total. But it does appear to be on the rise, and the last thing you want after the hassle of preparing your return is to find out your refund has been swiped by some bad guy.
Janice Chaffin, head of Symantec’s Norton Business Unit, offers these tax season safety tips:
1. Carefully select your tax prep provider or software.
Visit the IRS Web site for approved software partners that support online filing. If you use a tax prep provider, don’t just go with someone who promises big refunds. Ask if friends have used him/her before.
2. When ready to eFile, make sure your Internet connection is safe.
When you are using an online tax prep service, look for indications that the connection is encrypted (you should see the address change to “https” and a lock symbol appear in the browser frame). Don’t prepare or file taxes on a shared, insecure connection like the open Wi-Fi network in your neighborhood coffee shop.
3. Turn off (or remove) any peer-to-peer file sharing services.
If you use peer-to-peer services (like LimeWire, Kazaa, BitTorrent), you can inadvertently allow a criminal anywhere in the world to find your tax file record (usually a pdf file) on your computer, revealing all your personal information. It is best not to use these services, during tax season or any other time of the year.
4. Encrypt and secure any pdf copies of the return on your computer
In your My Documents view, right-click a file name to select “Encrypt.” Print out a copy and put in a safe location in your home. Back up or store additional copies to save someplace else.
5. Make sure your Internet security software is on and up-to-date.
Symantec advises all computer users to keep their security software updated; keep their computer systems clean and continue to use general best practices for staying safe online. Find more information on how to prevent criminals from invading your computer here.