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5 Ways To Ensure Protection When Sending Your Tax Preparer Personal Information!

Real Estate Broker/Owner with RE/MAX DFW Associates
Sean Sullivan is security advisor for F-Secure, a provider of award-winning anti-virus and computer security software. You can find more great security tips like this on F-Secure’s Safe and Savvy blog and stay up to date on the latest online threats via the F-Secure Labs blog. The FBI recently announced that it received over 300,000 cybercrime complaints in 2010. The type of information contained in tax returns, such as social security numbers, is key for crimes such as identity theft, which the Federal Trade Commission estimated cost consumers more than $50 billion a year. The Internal Revenue Service sees about 20% of all taxpayers wait until the last two weeks to file, with about 30 million returns filed in April. Of those, nearly 21 million will be electronically filed (e-filed), containing the kinds of digitized personal and financial information sought after by criminals. As we approach crunch time for the 2011 tax season and the majority of us prepare to file digitally, our most sensitive financial information will once again become the target of sneaky online crooks. It’s obvious that the “bad guys” don’t have many qualms about stealing your, information but with a little common sense and preparation, you can easily avoid falling victim as you prepare to submit your taxes online for another year. Here’s how. 1. Update Your System and Security Software The most essential element of computer protection is even more important during tax season. Before you start working on your taxes, make sure that your PC is patched and protected with the latest software. There are many free programs that will check to make sure your security applications are up-to-date and find any vulnerabilities you might have in your installed software. Also, all the protection in the world won’t matter if you are using an unprotected wireless network. If you’re going to connect to a public Wi-Fi spot to work on anything related to business or taxes, always connect via VPN. 2. Share Your Tax Documents the Old-Fashioned Way Transmitting your tax forms through email is risky. If you need to get a 1099 or W-4 to your spouse or tax preparer, you should send it through snail mail or deliver it directly while there’s still time. You can burn your Excel files onto a CD or save them to a removable drive to avoid the hassle of paper. 3. Zip and Password Protect Your Email Attachments As April 15 nears, you may need to email a crucial file. If you do, make sure to zip the file, password protect it and verbally give the recipient the password over the phone. Don’t be afraid to ask anyone you’re sharing confidential data with if he or she is using a PC that is completely updated. They should appreciate the reminder. 4. Password Protect Your Life Yes, millions of Americans still use bafflingly simple passwords like “12345″ — even for business accounts. Many Gawker readers paid for this mistake dearly after the site was hacked late last year. Other people use pet names, birthdays and other basic information that can be easily gleaned off most Facebook profiles. This makes life too easy for would-be hackers. Take the time to use a password system that makes it easy to create and remember multiple strong passwords. Also, consider one of these five tools for keeping track of your passwords. One new place to be wary of tax-hackers is your mobile device. Many of the most popular tax preparation software programs are now being offered as applications on your smartphone. If you’re one of the early adopters trying to file your forms via mobile this year, make sure you protect your phone itself with a password, and don’t do your taxes when you’re in public — you never know who’s looking over your shoulder. 5. Double-Check Your Tax Preparer and Software If your preparer is filing for you, make sure he or she follows the U.S. government’s guidelines for tax data security. If you’re using tax preparation software, check out third-party reviews of the software or site. The money you spend preparing your taxes is deductible on your next year’s taxes, so forget about who’s the cheapest and go with the best you can afford. With a few precautions, you can count on your PC during these last few days before the deadline hits and stay focused on the good stuff — like how big your refund will be this year.
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Gary Woltal
Keller Williams Realty - Flower Mound, TX
Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth

Data security is paramount Jeff, particularly with income, tax, or any kind of personal information. Great tips all here, and I would never send tax files inside an email.

Apr 01, 2011 11:36 AM