Tax Filing in 2019: How to Protect Your Data & Personal Information – It’s that time of year again. Some of us look forward to it because we’ve arranged things so we have a refund to look forward to. Others hate it because they know they’re going to owe something.
It doesn’t matter which of those two groups you fall into. All of us still need to exercise caution when filing our returns. We need to protect all of that personal—and highly sensitive!—information that’s included in a tax return as well as our data in general. Every year, in the midst of tax season, the IRS issues dire warnings about tax scams involving phishing emails and websites.
Filing online is super easy and has become the most expedient way to do it. Unless you take your taxes to an accountant, of course. However, you might want to ask them a few questions about what they’re doing to protect your data.
Anyway, again, filing online is quick and easy, but you do need to be cautious. So I’m going to detail a few ways you can be sure your data stays safe.
Use a VPN
Probably one of the most efficient ways to be safe online all the time, not just during tax season, is to use a Virtual Private Network. Doing so will ensure all of your online traffic remains anonymous. No spying ISP or anyone else knows where you go and what you do there while online because your personal IP address remains hidden behind the network.
The other huge advantage to a VPN is that it keeps your data encrypted from endpoint to endpoint. This simply means the route from your computer or device to the website/service/app you are visiting and perhaps logging into. And depending on the VPN, this encryption may happen multiple times.
There is a ton of VPNs to choose from, and frankly, researching them all can be a bit intimidating. Here’s a good starting point. Check out this review of Secureline Virtual Private Network.
Always Use Strong Passwords
This topic continues to be beaten to death because people seem to ignore it. Or they can’t be bothered to manage multiple complex passwords that most people don’t have the ability to store and remember in their brains. So they use the same weak password for everything.
Don’t do that!
Every single website, service, app, or whatever that requires a login should have its own unique password. And that password needs to be long and complex. Meaning it should have numbers, letters, and characters—things like dollar signs, ampersands, brackets and so forth.
Make sure the software you use to prepare and submit your taxes has a strong password.
Don’t Share Sensitive Info Via Email
Let’s say you’re going the accountant route. Dealing with all those numbers is just more than you can handle. I completely understand!
How are you sharing information with your accountant? Have you physically taken him/her all of your information? Are you emailing it to them?
If you answered that you use email, please stop doing that. There is an entire underground industry involved in hacking and selling email accounts. There are literally billions of email accounts that have been hacked between Yahoo, Gmail, and Microsoft. If you share sensitive info via email and your account is hacked, that info is now up for sale on the dark web, and your identity is in jeopardy.
Ensure Your Operating System & Programs are up to Date
Whether you use a desktop/laptop computer or a mobile device, make sure you keep your operating system up to date. Security vulnerabilities are often found and patched, and if you don’t apply the patch, you’re putting yourself at risk.
Make sure your firewall and antivirus are working properly and that all definitions are updated as well.
Setting up account alerts is always a good idea since you will know when someone other than yourself tries to access one of your accounts.
Where in the World are You?
Say it’s filing time and you’re away from home. Maybe you’re traveling. Or perhaps you’ve got your laptop in tow and have decided to work on your return while you’re at lunch. You can grab a table in the corner of your favorite lunch spot for some privacy and file your return there.
Do not file your taxes, or do any other sort of sensitive work while using public WiFi. The chances of your data getting stolen are huge. You may think you have privacy in that corner table, but you don’t. Anyone who knows what they’re doing can set up an access point and you could be routed through them before logging into the private network. That means whatever you do is visible to them.
Tax season can be bad enough. Make it a safe one and be sure to stay protected when you file.The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Financial Watch. Every investment and trading move involves risk. You should conduct your own research when making a decision.