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Fran Maier

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Normally tomorrow would be the deadline to file your federal tax returns, but thanks to an IRS extension taxpayers have until this Monday, April 18th. Filing returns involves sharing A LOT of personal information, such as Social Security Numbers, home addresses, and birth dates. Filing returns can also generate a flurry of documents, both hardcopy and digital, containing this sensitive information and you may end up sharing these documents with various professionals and third parties who assist you in preparing your returns.

Here’s five privacy tips you can use to keep your personal information safe this tax season:

1. E-file using a secure connection and webpage/portal

If you’re filing online you should avoid public wifi connections. Use a private, password-protected network instead and make sure you have a firewall turned on and the latest anti-virus and anti-spyware installed. If you’re using desktop software or a 3rd party website to file your returns, make sure they’re encrypting your data during transmission. Secure webpages begin with “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP” so look for that “s” before entering sensitive personal information. Read the privacy policy of the tax software you are using to make sure they use encryption.

2. Beware of “Federal” Phishers

“Phishers” are malicious individuals or groups who try to trick consumers into handing over their personal information (usually via email) by posing as legitimate authorities. One common tactic phishers use it to appear as legitimate government authorities, like the IRS or Department of Commerce, and claim that you need to fill out a form or file a claim to be reimbursed. The government will never ask you share sensitive personal information over email so if you get such a request do not respond, because it’s a phisher. For more tips on how to spot and stop a phish, read my previous post “6 Tips to Spot & Stop a Phish

3. Watch for Signs of ID Theft

Many victims of identity only discover that they’ve been defrauded during tax season when they become aware of financial accounts opened in their name. Some ID thefts will also use a victim’s identity to gain a job, so be on the lookout for W2 statements or notices of financial accounts under your name that you do not recognize. You can call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit, toll-free at 1-800-908-4490 to report cases of identity theft.

4. Secure Copies of Your Tax Returns & Destroy Those You Don’t Need

Encrypt and password-protect any digital copies of your tax returns that you store on your computer or an external storage device. File and lock any physical copies of your return information and shred/trash those copies that you don’t need.

5. Look for Signs of Trust When Filing Via a 3rd party

There are a lot of companies that can help you file your taxes, but not all of them are legitimate, in fact, some are outright scams. Look for online trustmarks like the TRUSTe Privacy seal as well as authoritative endorsements of the product you plan to use before turning over your sensitive personal information.

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