Although the official tax season for the U.S. ended on the 15th of this month, for millions of Americans, the true work has just begun. If you had a particularly complex fiscal year—maybe you started a business, went through a divorce, or worked abroad for part of the year—you may have filed an extension, giving you a little extra time to square things away. Unfortunately, the kind of forms you’ll be filling out online will have quite a bit of sensitive personal information on them, so it’s important to keep yourself as protected as possible. As you work out the details of your tax extension, here are 3 quick things to remember regarding identity theft and the IRS:
Fraudulent Tax Claims Filed By Identity Thieves Will Give You A Serious Hassle With The IRS
While the IRS has its own special unit for criminal investigations—the Identity Theft Clearinghouse—with an excellent track record of sniffing out fraudulent claims and getting victims’ names cleared, the unpleasant reality of this is that it usually takes several months, with a case backlog in the hundreds of thousands. During this time, you won’t be able to receive your actual tax return, among other things. So if you have special plans for your yearly returns, or you rely on it for budgetary concerns, you’ll want to take every precaution possible to protect your tax information this year.
Tax Season Causes A Resurgence In All The Classic Identity Theft Scams
Tax season is the time of year when every American with an income has sensitive financial information that can be exploited, and in 2013, most of this information is accessed online—even by the elderly, many of whom only use a computer several times a year or less. The unfortunate combination of valuable personal information and potentially inexperienced computer users provides many tempting targets for identity thieves.
Email attachments with keylogging programs, links that take you to deceptively-legitimate financial institutions and ask for your account information, and even fake census calls—usually by someone claiming to be from immigration, asking you for your citizenship status and social security number—are at an all-time high during this part of the year. If you have family members who might be more susceptible to these kinds of attacks, it’s a good time to review basic security measures with them.
Tax Season Causes Many People To Communicate Sensitive Information By Unsafe Means
If you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably more attentive than most about keeping your electronic records secure. But unfortunately, even though your own email may be protected by a randomly generated 28 character password, your accountant—the family friend who has helped you with your taxes for decades—might leave your emails open on his tablet screen while he gets a coffee refill at a fast food joint. Or you might be assisting your college-age son with his income taxes for the first time, emailing account numbers back and forth on an unguarded network. You never know who’s looking at your info on the other end of an electronic communication, so when you take stock of your monthly security needs and update your anti-virus software, spend a few moments thinking about where your data is going, and how you can be as safe as possible with it.
If you’re working your way through a complicated tax extension, the last thing you want to worry about is an attacker getting access to your sensitive financial accounts. Regardless of how many forms you have to fill out, and how many people you have to send them to, it’s important to remember how harmful your data can be in the wrong hands, and to take all the steps necessary to protect yourself.
John is a blogger who has fortunately never needed to file an online tax extension for himself, but has helped several others do so. He writes for Protect Your Bubble, an Internet insurer that can help protect you from identity theft, especially during tax season.